The last time I saw Jon Kaplan, which was barely a week ago, he said he was tired. But he was smiling. Perfect, I thought, that this lovely man, knowing he was dying, could still bring light into the world.
NOWs Senior Theatre Writer brought a unique light to Torontos theatre community, as well. He was knowledgeable, open, indefatigable even to the end. He wrote his last review for NOW just two weeks before he died April 28 of cancer.
Jon was born in Florida, went to college at Brandeis and then to graduate school at York. Ill be forever thankful to whoever it was who took him to the theatre at age five, when he caught the stage bug and never shed it.
He wrote about theatre, ballet and opera for NOW since the very first issue hit the streets over 35 years ago and did so with energy, passion and compassion. He saw thousands of productions, hundreds each year, and approached every show and every interview with an open mind to the artists intention.
I never read a line from Jon that was about him personally. It was always about the work and why it mattered.
A few years ago, we at NOW had to make some tough decisions about how to reduce our editorial package. We thought wed cut back Theatre Scenes, comprised of short blurbs about productions we couldnt cover at greater length. This would have taken some work off Jons very full plate with no impact on his salary but Jon would have none of it, and not because our decision caused something of an uproar in the stage community, which it did.
He pleaded with me, cajoled and argued that the tiny blurbs were crucial for a production, and especially for younger artists who needed every kind of media push they could get. I explained that, of course, the column could continue online, whereupon he delivered the goods every Wednesday. Of course, he decided to take advantage of the infinite space available to him online and doubled its size.
To be honest, he kind of ignored me when it came to assignments. Because of the challenges print media are currently experiencing, we suggested he cut down on his reviews. But he just kept going to the theatre anyway, because it didnt matter to him whether he was slated to review. He saw everything regardless and not only because he loved the theatre, but because he thrilled to a new discovery. Thats why he went to college shows. You never know, hed say to me.
Many times hed report that he was blown away by a writer or actor whether student or professional and hed keep a record to make sure that he covered them the next time they hit the boards.
He was almost always right in his assessments. Michael Healey, for example, credits Jon’s review in Plays International for the eventual world-wide success of The Drawer Boy.
Actually, there are very few stage artists in town who didnt benefit from Jons kind but critical eye.
Much beloved, he was honoured often by the stage community. In addition to having received a Harold Award for his nurturing of local indie troupes, Jon has also been given the Brenda Donohue Award for his passionate support of Toronto theatre and its artists.
He was also an exceptional friend. How Ill miss those tasty sweets he brought me, his expert travel advice he and his husband and long-time partner Don Cole went all over the world together, documenting their adventures in words and pictures his spectacular office back rubs, which frequently saved me from major meltdowns.
He was, of course, encyclopedic about the theatre. We made an annual pilgrimage to Stratford together and I relished the seminars he offered to me over our pre-show dinner.
Okay, what can you tell me? Id always ask. And, often having seen the play five times, with varying casts, and in cities all over the world, he could tell me everything. On the drive home, he even tolerated my Ethel Merman impressions encouraged them, actually.
Thats what I call a magical friend.
He died peacefully at home, Don at his side, with only minor pain, apparently still able to smile the day he went. If ever there was a man who deserved an easy passing, it was Jon Kaplan.
A celebration of Jon’s life will be announced at a later date.