Toronto's theatre community mourns beloved critic

Toronto's theatre community is mourning a critic who reviewed plays for the city's NOW magazine.

Jon Kaplan, senior theatre writer for NOW magazine, died Friday at age 69

"Theatre is, for me, an art form that tells me something about myself or gets me thinking about the world in which I live. Whether going to the theatre as a reviewer or simply an audience member, I think that watching a play is an emotional experience and not just an intellectual one. I always let a show wash over me, letting it touch my feelings, and only later, after the show, do I try to analyze those feelings." - Jon Kaplan in Young People's Theatre, At The Centre, Feb. 27, 2017 (YouTube)

Toronto's theatre community is mourning a critic who reviewed plays for the city's NOW magazine for 35 years.

Jon Kaplan, NOW's senior theatre writer, died Friday of cancer, according to the magazine. He was 69. 

Susan G. Cole, former senior entertainment writer at NOW, said Kaplan wrote his final review for the weekly alternative news and entertainment magazine only two weeks before his death. She said she worked with Kaplan at the magazine for 20 years.

​"He was our senior stage writer and there really was nobody like Jon," she said Saturday.

"He approached the art of criticism as a lover of the theatre, and with such compassion and devotion, not only to the art form, but to the need for artists to be encouraged. He went to perhaps hundreds of shows every year, including student shows," she said.

When Cole told Kaplan that he didn't have to attend so many student shows, he told her: "Oh Susan, you never know." Many times, she said, he made discoveries there.

"Not only professionally but as a person, he was gentle, kind. He really was present when he was with you. He was present in his role as a theatre reviewer. And as a friend, he was exceptional," she said.

His death is loss to theatre community

Cole said his death is a major loss to theatre in Toronto because he appreciated the art form, he enjoyed seeing artists develop and he encouraged artists whenever he could.

"The biggest loss was that he really loved a new discovery. He loved the idea that he could watch somebody grow as an artist. And he gave them incredible kinds of encouragement," she said.

"I'm not trying to say he was an easy critic. But he was never cruel. And one of things that I've said about him very often was that he went at it with absolutely zero ego. I never read a line from Jon Kaplan that was about him," she said.

"It was always about the work, what its potential was, and why it mattered. That's why Jon Kaplan was so unique."

Cole said artists are experiencing a "profound sense of loss" right now. She said many artists saw him as a member of their community. There wasn't "that distance" between him and artists.

"They won't have another person like him," she said.

Cole said his death is a "very, very big deal for this city."
Jon Kaplan (YouTube)

Kaplan, according to Intermission Magazine, grew up in Florida, studied English at Brandeis University in Massachusetts, and graduated in 1969. While the U.S. was still fighting the Vietnam War, Kaplan came to Canada to get a master's degree in English from Toronto's York University, the magazine said. It said his thesis was on Elizabethan and Jacobean theatre.

In the 1970s, the magazine said Kaplan began writing theatre views for the Body Politic, and later, for NOW. He freelanced and worked part-time as a teacher at York but eventually NOW turned into a full-time job.

In a story for Intermission Magazine, Toronto actress Allegra Fulton described Kaplan as a "great big fan" of theatre.

Writing about him while he was still alive, she said: "Jon has always reminded me why my work is important, and why it makes a difference. I don't think I'm the only one he's had that effect on. He has a deep respect for artists and what we bring to life and to the conversation."

Kaplan died at home in the presence of his partner Don Cole.

With files from Denis Calnan