Ninety-Plus Benjamin Kendall Decides to Write a Play

Benjamin Kendall (Photo by Ginny Kendall)

Dr. Benjamin Kendall retired from medicine way back in 2001. He was an obstetrician and gynecologist for 40 years, mainly at Jefferson University Hospital. He wanted to try acting.

Over the next 20 years, he acted in plays across the Philadelphia area. Kendall enjoyed becoming characters on stage, he told Chestnut Hill Local in 2013.

But during the pandemic, the longtime member at Beth David Reform Congregation in Gladwyne couldn’t act. Theaters were shut down. He also kept getting calls from scammers pretending to be his grandson who needed money.

Sometimes, Kendall would play along. Other times, he would launch into a tirade. It was funny. It also gave him the idea for his first play: “Hello, Grandpop,” a comedy about a Jewish man who lives in a nursing home and gets these calls. Kendall wrote it during the pandemic and watched it premiere at The Spotlight Theatre in Swarthmore on Dec. 8.

The play ran for two weekends. On its final night, it drew a crowd of 80 people, the highest of its run, according to the directors, Leigh and Lauri Jacobs.

“I was overwhelmed. I was very pleased,” Kendall said.

Kendall wrote the play in a few months and kept rewriting it. But once he showed it to the Jacobs, friends of his, he also gave up control.

“They loved it,” he said.

And it was theirs to direct.

They found actors who fit their parts and “everybody bought in beautifully,” Kendall said.

The writer attended one rehearsal. But other than that, he had no part in the production.

Kendall estimated that he’s acted in 60 different plays during his 20 years on stage. Each time, he was nervous before he walked out there. But once the lights went up, he calmed down. All he had to do was lose himself in his character.

Writing was different. He was nervous through the final curtain.

“I sat there nervous as hell throughout the entire performance. I gave up control. I could only relax on the last curtain,” he said.

Benjamin Kendall arrives at a performance of his play at The Spotlight Theatre in Swarthmore.
(Photo by Jim Kendall)

Plays are performed before live audiences, and audiences can be “very funny things,” Kendall said. Some bought in from the opening line and laughed throughout. Others didn’t react at all.

On the first Friday night that the play ran, the crowd “picked up everything,” Kendall said.

“Every laugh,” he added.

And at the end when the play got sad, “They got tense,” he said.

The next day, the audience didn’t react to a single line or gesture. But by the final performance, the theater had to put out extra chairs. There were that many people who wanted to come.

“And the audience was phenomenal,” Kendall said.

Leigh Jacobs appreciated the play’s honesty. While Kendall does not live in a nursing home, he is a 93-year-old man who gets those scam calls. He even got one before he left to go to The Spotlight Theater for opening night.

“It explores a real-world situation that seniors are dealing with,” Jacobs said.

The audience connected with it for the same reason, Jacobs believes.

“People loved it. On our last day, we had a record number of people to see it,” she said. “And they had a reaction that was just, we looked at each other and said, ‘Oh, this is why we do this.’”

“I like to write, especially as I get older,” Kendall said. “And I really like theater. It’s magic.”

Benjamin Kendall takes questions from the audience after a performance of his play at The Spotlight Theatre in Swarthmore. (Photo by Ginny Kendall)

The retired doctor and actor would like to write more. Right after the play’s run ended, he said to himself, “No more plays!”

“That’s too much anxiety for me,” he added. “Two days later, I started writing another one.”

It also takes place in a nursing home. A grumpy old man enters. He’s depressed that he must be there. Then an old lady comes in. She’s buoyant, as Kendall describes her, and a good listener and informal.

“She brings him out of his funk,” Kendall said.

They decide they should try to have sex. It doesn’t go well. And while it’s not, the old man’s roommate looks at them through a screen and promises to tell the administrator.
So, they kill him.

“It’s like an orgasm. They love it. It’s great,” Kendall said. “So, they start killing people in the nursing home.”

“I’m retired. I don’t want for any money. So, I’m just having fun,” the playwright said. “And I have ideas.”

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