Larger Than Life
Community Theater fondly remembers Bob Hensley
There were only two lines in Robert H. Hensley’s obituary about theater — these noting his “outstanding stage presence,” at venues from the Music Box Dinner Playhouse and Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble to Little Theatre of Wilkes-Barre and Scranton Public Theatre. The Wilkes-Barre native was better known in the community at large, perhaps, by his career as a science teacher at Meyers High School in the Wilkes-Barre Area School District and for his service to the church. Before passing away on Monday, July 23 at the age of 69 following a long battle with cancer, Hensley played scores of roles at area schools as well theaters so masterfully and graciously that the local theater community (via Paul Winarski) asked electric city/diamond city to take a moment to remember his enormous contribution here.
“He really was one of the people who embodied the excellence we all strive for in local theatre,” Winarski wrote, adding that he knew Hensley’s name even before getting involved in the regional theater scene.
“He was a perfect example of why (the former) Showcase Theatre had the reputation it did. Although he was not an official founder of the group, he appeared in his first show for Showcase in their inaugural season. I worked with Bob several times over the years, but my favorite memory was when I got to direct him. He played Cardinal Wolsey for me in A Man for All Seasons, and his sense of humor and self deprecating charm lent a much needed breath of fresh air over the production. He was someone you could learn from, but was also someone who listened, and someone who had such a great sense of himself. He was one of a kind.”
Among the comments left on Hensley’s Facebook page are words from Bruce Phair of Wilkes University that liken the actor to a “lovable Dickensian character.”
“Your bigger than life persona could liven up a room and light up a stage,” Phair wrote. “Sondheim and Brell have greater meaning for us because of your love for their work. We are better directors for having worked in your shows. We are better actors for having shared your stage. We are richer human beings for having been called your friend.”
Phair isn’t the only one who thinks of Dickens and Hensley in the same breath. Kevin Costley performed in A Christmas Carol with Hensley more than once at the Music Box Dinner Playhouse over the years. He was moved to share the following:
“I can still hear his hearty laugh and booming voice — I am the Ghost of Christmas Present… Come and know me better, man! I wish I had. I mean, I thought I knew him. He was a great performer, a versatile actor, singer, and yes… even dancer. He was also a good and loyal friend. But, to my misfortune, I never ‘knew him better’. Only now that he is gone am I learning (how) he was loved and admired by so many for things I never knew. Maybe this Christmas he will visit me and give me one more chance.”
Member of the board of the Northeastern Pennsylvania Theatrical Alliance, Micky Nieman knew Hensley through extended family as well as through her theatrical family at Showcase Theatre.
“I was always amazed at the talent I saw in him,” she wrote to ec/dc. “Through the years I have seen well over 300 shows between London and New York and in my opinion he could have held the stage anywhere. Plus, he was a fantastic teacher and a wonderful human being.”