How happy am I to write this?
I spent lunch yesterday with my college roommate Mark Kaplan, who I just adore.
In 1981, at Syracuse University, as a freshman I met Mark as a fellow freshman in the new class of music theatre students. Sometimes in life you are drawn to kindred spirits; sometimes you are drawn to pure talent; sometimes, you are drawn at the same time to both. I don’t give myself credit for being as gifted as Mark, but I had the smarts to at least hang around him hoping something would rub off. Mark, and my dear friend Matthew Whitaker, formed what would be the nucleus of my ‘freshman year friends.’
We quickly became good friends and lived together for two of our four years in college. It was clear from day one that Mark not only had a fantastic voice and passion for the theatre, but a sense of humor that would transcend time. Mark made me laugh, Mark made me think, and more than anything Mark made me proud to know him as a person and as an artist.
One of the wonderful lessons that you can’t grasp until you are “older” is the value and quality of true friends. When I write that, I mean people that you may go 10, 15 years without seeing – but can count on the connection and bond that you share. That is what I was reminded of spending three hours at lunch with Mark and his husband Michael (yes, we both married ‘Michaels’ – life is funny that way).
Mark is currently back on tour playing the role of “Zazu” with the national company of “The Lion King” for which he has worked off and on over several years. He’s also been honored with 2 Jefferson Awards for his work as an actor in “Forbidden Broadway” and “Ragtime” in Chicago. Plus a ton of other credits I won’t go into listing – just trust, they are there. The point of my listing those is to point up what an accomplished actor and artist he is. Much is made of being a ‘star’ in the world today, but my respect always goes out first to the actors who make a living doing what they love and are clearly good at what they do. Even just skipping over thoughts and ideas at lunch, Mark was clear and ‘on point’ about what a lot of people who work in the theater would barely comprehend.
Some days I like to think I’m pretty astute about theater and entertainment in general. Yesterday I listened to Mark in casual conversation and I was reminded how smart and clear his instincts are – about theater, about working in the theater and his appreciation for the theater. It’s not often I stop talking about theater. But when someone is speaking with more clarity and comprehension than I – and it’s waaaaay obvious – I at least have the good sense to stop and listen.
Mark Kaplan is such an artist. And a friend. My life is best when I get to enjoy hours like I spent in Mark and Michael’s company talking about these things that mean so much to us. The restaurant literally closed around us as we continued to talk and catch up.
We all need days like I just had. We all need friends who may be somewhere out there, but always ‘present’ in our lives that we can talk to this freely.