Jonathan C. Kaplan(Photo © Michael Portantiere)
Jonathan C. Kaplan
(Photo © Michael Portantiere)
In 1992, young Jonathan Kaplan received a Tony Award nomination for his sweet, funny, and moving performance as Bar Mitzvah boy Jason in the William Finn musical Falsettos. He subsequently appeared in the film Life With Mikey; in the 1997 Broadway revisal of The Diary of Anne Frank, playing Peter Van Daan opposite Natalie Portman; and in the national tour of The Graduate. Now 25, Kaplan is returning to the stage in Brooklyn as Kippy Sunderstrom in The Gallery Players' production of Take Me Out, Richard Greenberg's play about the furor that results when the star player of a professional baseball team publicly reveals that he's gay. Over lunch recently, I spoke with him about that project and other highlights of his burgeoning career.

********************

THEATERMANIA: Jonathan, it goes without saying that many child actors don't have career success as adults, and even those who do sometimes find the transition difficult. Was there ever a period when you stopped acting?

JONATHAN KAPLAN: Yes. After I finished Falsettos and Life with Mikey, I took some time off to go back to school, but the acting bug kept biting me. I'd try to get away but, every couple of years, I would find myself back in some kind of studio playing some bit part in some show. I did [the TV shows] Brotherly Love and Boy Meets World in my late teens, playing nerds and social outcasts.

TM: Where did you go to school?

JK: I went to high school in Southern California, in Malibu. Then I went to college at Stanford, and I tried every other major I possibly could to get away from acting. I majored in psychology, linguistics, Italian, but I finally came back to drama. I couldn't keep away from it. I did a number of very strange shows in college, including a Polish play where everybody moved around on pegs throughout the course of the show.

TM: Your first role as an adult was in The Graduate. You did that show on tour with quite a high-profile group of leading ladies.

JK: Yeah. They were some of the nicest people to work with, and they were very professional about the nudity in the show. There were some troubling moments when audience members were taking pictures. Well, that only happened in one city: Cincinnati. Some woman took Lorraine Bracco's picture from the balcony, and Lorraine was horrified. The tour lasted nine months, and there were three Mrs. Robinsons during that time. Each actress would do it for about two and a half months. They were very different from each other. Linda Gray was very good with the comic timing, Lorraine was very Italian, and Kelly McGillis put a lot of depth into the lines.

TM: So you got to work with three famous actresses on that show, and in The Diary of Anne Frank you played opposite Miss Natalie Portman.

JK: How about her, huh? I'm not going to lie: After the last performance, I went and looked at the stage manager's log to find out exactly how many times I had performed with Natalie and, therefore, how many times I had kissed her, so I could brag about it later. It was 227 performances and 227 kisses. I'm very proud of that! Natalie is a very intelligent and very dedicated person.

TM: There were several other wonderful actors in that cast.

JK: Yes. I'm fortunate to have worked with some amazing people. On that show, Linda Lavin practically adopted me as her son. We went out to dinner and movies all the time. I was also very impressed that all of these musical theater people -- Linda, George Hearn -- were able to knock it out of the park with a straight play.

TM: Did you do a lot of acting before Falsettos?

JK: Yeah, I kind of grew up in the theater. I started at the age of five, doing various community shows in Cincinnati. We lived there for about three years and then moved to northern California, where I did a ton of shows -- small parts like Mustardseed in the Foothills College production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. It was a great time for training. I was taking classes at the San Francisco Ballet and was trying to enrich myself with different experiences. My parents were very supportive but they never forced me to do anything. My mother wasn't one of those "You get this part or no 'My Little Pony' for you!' stage mothers. It was great to do shows with other people who were just starting out themselves; they were passionate about the work they were doing, but we didn't have any divas. I remember doing Rags at the American Jewish Theatre before I did Falsettos. Stephen Schwartz would come in because he was reworking things with Richard Sabellico, the director, and they had some of the craziest catfights that I have ever seen. Of course, it was all for the good of the show, but it was wild.

TM: What's your most vivid memory of Falsettos?

JK: It's funny: Every time I hear "Father to Son," which is one of my favorites, I remember Michael [Rupert] sitting in front of me with sweat dripping down his face and beading into his eyes. But he never wavered, and that was really astounding to me.

Kaplan with Michael Rupert in Falsettos
Kaplan with Michael Rupert in Falsettos
TM: He started out on Broadway as a child performer. Did he ever give you any advice?

JK: Not really; he kind of showed me by example the proper way to handle myself. It was actually Chip Zien who gave me advice. I remember he once said to me, "You want a tip? Let me give you a tip: Get out of the business while you still can!"

TM: How was Tony Awards night?

JK: It was intense. They announced Best Supporting Actor in a Musical right before we were to do our number from Falsettos. Of course, Scott Waara ended up winning it [for The Most Happy Fella]. So there I am, grinning on camera, and then I'm immediately rushed backstage to change into my Mets jacket. Then, just before we went on, someone announced during a commercial break how many millions of people were estimated to be watching the show. Fortunately, our number went off pretty much without a hitch.

TM: How did you become involved with Take Me Out?

JK: Well, I auditioned for a reading of another play that Tom Wojtunik was directing at Emerging Artists Theater. He very nicely e-mailed me afterwards and said, "I really appreciated all your work today but we decided to go in another direction." Later, he called me to say that he was doing Take Me Out for the Gallery Players and he wanted to hear me read for Kippy. I said yes right away, because I'd seen the Broadway production and I loved the show. It's very rare to find a piece that's so well written; Greenberg's use of language is amazing. I think it says a lot for the play that all of these actors are traveling to Brooklyn to take their clothes off onstage for no pay.

TM: Do you feel that nudity is still a big issue for actors, or not as much as it used to be because it has become almost commonplace?

JK: I don't think there's any difficulty with the nudity in this play because it's not exploitative. When you have nudity that's done just for the sake of nudity, it really is demeaning to an actor.

TM: Your character is so articulate; some people would say hyper-articulate. What's it like to play that?

JK: It's fun, especially when Kippy's talking with Shane -- who's a couple of fries short of a Happy Meal -- and tells him, "the situation that's happened and was precipitated by you is of an indeterminate nature." I think that's going to get a big laugh, because it's obvious to the audience that what Kippy says is going so far over Shane's head. Greenberg does a very good job of putting the various characters in separate camps; Kippy tries to bridge the gap between the A and B camps because he understands Shane in a way that nobody else does.

TM: If it were totally up to you, would this have been the role in this play that you would have picked for yourself?

JK: Yes. Mason has one of the most incredible monologues ever written, the one about baseball being better than a democracy. But I'm a little too young to play Mason. Right now, Kippy is the perfect part for me.