Never (Ever) Too Late
Retired and heeding the theatrical muse
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.