While some knew him as Jonah and others as Mac, we all loved and respected him. And we miss him dearly.

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The Jonah Mac Theatre – Part 1

Dear Jonah,

Gordon Macrae & Susan Luckey in Carousel

For most of my life, I’ve carried a memory of Gordon MacRae playing the wayward carnival barker Billy Bigelow in the film version of Carousel, returning from the afterlife for a brief visit to help his daughter. I saw the film as a little kid and that scene has haunted me ever since, not in a frightening way but piquing my curiosity as to whether or not a person can breach that seemingly infinite divide between this life and the next.

After you’d gone, I held out hope for a few years that you might find a way to reach me from the great beyond. I saw you in my dreams a few times, but they were fleeting moments and always with you either facing away from me (so I couldn’t see your face) or moving away from me (so I couldn’t talk with you or get one of those trademark hugs of yours).

How’s that for frustrating?

PGT's Jonah Mac Theatre

But on Sunday evening, March 11, I sure hope you were in the room because this was a moment you simply wouldn’t otherwise have believed. Play Group Theatre (PGT), the young people’s community performance program in which both you and Aiden participated for many years, dedicated its newly-renovated “black box” studio space in your memory. Renamed the Jonah Mac Theatre, it is simply overwhelming to think that you made the kind of impact while you were alive that someone (besides your parents) would want to immortalize after you’d gone (thank you, Steven and Jill Abusch, the shining, guiding lights of PGT).

It’s really an extraordinary thing they’ve done, and it goes way beyond remembering you (although that would certainly have been plenty for me). The Jonah Mac Theatre was designed to serve, with you as the model, as a teaching vehicle for the young people who, in that space, will learn about bravery and about life, for this is what PGT teaches so very, very well. And apparently, what you learned so very well.

More to come (in “The Jonah Mac Theatre – Part 3”) about Steven and Jill and the incredible little theatre they designed. For right now, JoJo, let me share with you what mom said as her part of the dedication.

We were all standing in the lobby just outside the Jonah Mac door, waiting for the moment when Aiden would cut the ribbon and we could go inside. Steven, besides running all of PGT’s behind-the-scenes activity, is also a dear friend of the Dreskins. He welcomed everyone and invited mom to say a few words.

She spoke about your having followed PGT to a lot of different places. Until 2009, Play Group Theatre had no permanent home of its own. It rented space all around Westchester for its offices, auditions, rehearsals and performances. While you saw the inside (many, many times) of the White Plains Mall, Irvington Town Hall, the Manor Club of Pelham, Bet Am Shalom Synagogue, the White Plains Performing Arts Center and the New Rochelle Public Library, you never set foot inside of “NoBro,” PGT’s current and permanent home at One North Broadway in White Plains, NY.

Somehow, through all those years, while PGT wandered, you found a home for yourself there. It started your very first day when PGT’er Alison Pincus gave you such a warm welcome before your first audition, calming you down and helping you understand that, at PGT, the person comes before the play. It continued when PGT’er Steven Kaplan met you at the White Plains train station so you wouldn’t be alone finding you way to a PGT gathering in the city. It was cemented when (during a really rough patch in high school) you backed out of Marvin’s Room during tech week, but Jill sensitively and lovingly talked you back into it. And then it burst into full blossom when your little brother was cast alongside you in your senior show (Hair) so that two brothers could be on stage together, even giving the two of you your own ukulele-accompanied duet.

PGT was so good for you, Jonah. As with most young people, those were not easy years for you. But Steven and Jill make sure that every single one of their charges is looked after, is made to feel welcomed, valued and safe. You understood that and, as so many had done for you, to those who followed, you returned the favor many times over.

You never got to see NoBro, Jonah, but you and every other PGT kid are what built this new home. That powerful and palpable sense of belonging was carried from space to space, and when One North Broadway was finally ready, the PGT community simply brought “home” inside this new space with them.

And now, with the dedication of the Jonah Mac Theatre, you too have come back home.

As much as I would have loved for you to have your Carousel moment back on earth, this – to be remembered for all the good you’ve done for others – I can live with that. I am so proud to have been your dad, Jonah. I am so proud to be your dad. And I am endlessly grateful that you lived a life that others can point to and say, “He was a good person. I learned something important from him.”

Love you forever,

To the reader: In “The Jonah Mac Theatre – Part 2,” before we actually go inside I’ve got a bit more to share about the dedication ceremony. Hope to see you back for that.

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