Never (Ever) Too Late

Re­tired and heed­ing the the­atri­cal muse

Gulf & Main - - Contents - BY KATHY GREY

They worked tire­lessly, ded­i­cat­ing their lives to suc­cess­ful ca­reers and par­ent­ing. And then came re­tire­ment. Liv­ing among us in South­west Florida are three who took to the stage later in life.

CAP­TUR­ING THE MO­MENTS A life­long sales­man, Harry Lichtc­sien was a 40-year devo­tee to Toastmasters, where he ex­celled in im­promptu speak­ing. “I’d drive 100 miles to get to a meet­ing,” he says.

In 2005, Harry Lichtc­sien was di­ag­nosed with colon can­cer, un­der­went surgery and was con­sid­ered can­cer-free un­til it re­turned in 2011 with a Stage 4 di­ag­no­sis. Two-plus years of chemo­ther­apy later, treat­ments ran him down phys­i­cally and emo­tion­ally. In a se­ries of di­vine mishaps, Harry and his part­ner, Bon­nie Gross­mann, at­tended an im­pro­vi­sa­tional com­edy show at the Cen­ter for the Arts Bonita Springs. Harry was called on­stage to add sound ef­fects. His Toastmasters his­tory pay­ing off big time, Harry was a hit.

He took im­prov classes, and he and Bon­nie formed the troupe Harry’s Se­nior Mo­ment with a core group of class­mates who “adore him and wanted to be part it,” Bon­nie says. Af­ter eight months of re­hearsal, Harry’s Se­nior Mo­ment de­buted in 2016 at the Al­liance for the Arts in Fort My­ers. The troupe has per­formed at the Off Broad­way Palm, Cin­na­mon Cove, and on Harry’s 83rd birth­day, Avow Hospice in Naples for the open­ing

“I try to do things that scare me. That’s what you do. It’s called liv­ing.” —Brenda Kensler

of its pal­lia­tive care cen­ter. The im­prov troupe of Harry’s Se­nior Mo­ment has been in­vited back to the Off Broad­way Palm for a week­long gig in May 2018. “You have no idea how you make us feel,” one au­di­ence mem­ber with Stage 4 can­cer told him.

But Harry knows ex­actly how it feels, and that im­prov led him to “en­joy my life hav­ing can­cer. It changed the mo­ments of my life.”

WRIT­ING WITH SUR­GI­CAL PRE­CI­SION S.R. “Bob” Max­einer Jr. was born May 27, 1923. In the late 1950s he founded Sur­gi­cal Con­sul­tants in Min­nesota, for 33 years prac­ticed as a gen­eral sur­geon be­fore re­tire­ment. He and his wife, Pa­tri­cia, moved to Sani­bel in 1987, where he im­me­di­ately joined the Sani­bel Is­land Writ­ers Group, now in its 35th year. There, the small tribe of scribes meets weekly to share and ex­am­ine their work.

Max­einer has two pub­lished books: The Trans­plant Web, a novel, and Wild As­para­gus, a col­lec­tion of short fic­tion. A the­ater devo­tee,

At 94, writer Bob Max­einer (left) cease­lessly seeks in­spi­ra­tion for his work. Brenda Kensler's the­ater de­but was at 55.

His Toastmasters his­tory pay­ing off big time, Harry was a hit.

he has writ­ten five plays, some of which have been pro­duced at Theatre Con­spir­acy’s play read­ing se­ries in Fort My­ers. “Brevity is a virtue,” a writ­ing coach once told him. “You have it.” That, Max­einer says, “took the lid off.” His provoca­tive play Be­lief in­volves themes of long-term com­mit­ment, fa­ther­hood, ar­dent faith and im­pend­ing death.

Be­lief was staged at Theatre Con­spir­acy in 2015, and is now in the hands of direc­tor and pro­ducer Robert Kalfin, founder of the Chelsea The­ater Cen­ter, with the prom­ise of pro­duc­tion in New York City.

TAP­PING IN AT 55

A former ele­men­tary school teacher, Brenda Kensler discovered her in­ner th­es­pian af­ter rais­ing her chil­dren. “I al­ways wanted to [per­form], but I was afraid” she says. Then, when she was 47, a neigh­bor asked her to take dance classes. Seven years later, she au­di­tioned for the mu­si­cal 42nd Street in Ann Ar­bor, Michi­gan. “I was 55, tap­ping in 42nd Street!”

Kensler went on to per­form in a num­ber of pro­duc­tions, in­clud­ing A Funny Thing Hap­pened on the Way to the Fo­rum,

Sweet Char­ity and Hair, the first show she’d ever seen on Broad­way. She asked for a part in Hair. In­stead of a younger “Tribe” mem­ber, Kensler played the role of Mother.

In South­west Florida, she has per­formed a num­ber lead­ing roles, mostly for the Lab­o­ra­tory The­ater of Florida. “I started look­ing at plays and think­ing, ‘Oh, I would have done this dif­fer­ently.’ ” So she started di­rect­ing for the Lab: Cal­en­dar Girls,

Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune and Cabaret, some­thing she’d wanted to do for 20 years. “I’d lis­ten to the mu­sic and chore­o­graph it in my head. I did the cos­tumes, chore­og­ra­phy, di­rect­ing, cast­ing … ev­ery­thing,” she says.

Re­cently, and with 24 hours’ no­tice, she filled in as an un­der­study at the Off Broad­way Palm. “I walked through my role once and bam! I went in and I did it ,” she says. “I started late and won­der­ful things hap­pened. I try to do things that scare me. That’s what you do. It’s called liv­ing.”

Harry Lichtc­sien (seated left) is the name­sake of Harry’s Se­nior Mo­ment. Harry's fel­low per­form­ers are Mar­ilu Holmes (seated), Leigh Shein, Steve Cobb and Bill Owens. The im­prov troupe re­turns next May to the Off Broad­way Palm in Fort My­ers.

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