We are three weeks into our rehearsal process, but it has been several years since Michael first approached me with a draft of this play. afO hosted a first read-through with some of our actor friends in July of 2016. However, I had no idea that the original idea was much older than that. Here is playwright Michael Wilhelm with a tantalizing look at how Bentley came to be written.
“Many of the things I write have an excruciatingly long gestation period. Bentley was no different. The core of this story is a situation that I witnessed many years ago. (I would go in to more details here but…spoilers…) So I held on to this idea, often pondering in my idle time how the details would work out, plot-wise. I didn’t know if it would end up being a movie script, novel or a stage play. I really needed to find the right vehicle to present it. That proved to be a long search, over many decades, in fact. Until some years ago I was browsing through a bargain bin of $1 DVD’s and I stumbled across the classic screwball comedy, My Man Godfrey.
At first I had not even considered putting the two together. I was just thinking of possibly adapting the movie for the stage. As I tinkered with adapting the film, I found more and more of it fell apart under scrutiny. Then I got to thinking: why not reformulate the premise of this 80-year-old classic comedy to fit into the popular culture we live in today? Thus,1930s high society and debutante balls give way to reality television and Twitter.
I would have to strip the original story down to its basic framework. With a new setting and the elimination of the social satire of the 1930s, I needed to tell a new story. This is where my original idea, the one I’d been holding onto for so long, came into play. It could become the new premise of the story. As it turned out, it was a perfect fit. Unlike the original film, Bentley has a spiritual curve that opens the humanness of its characters to the possibility that they can change their lives and the world around them.
How does this all play out? Quite profoundly, I think. You see, Bentley is an experiment. Something new stuffed into something familiar, then blended together to create a new modern fable of redemption. I hope you’ll come and see it, and tell me what you think.”
Michael Wilhelm (playwright) has been writing as far back as junior high school, where he penned fables from the Kingdom of Swoons. He was a writer on The Riverfront Radio Playhouse back in the late ‘70s over WIPU. He scripted and performed a one- man show based on C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters. Michael also wrote sketches for the Interseeding Ensemble, a Christian drama ministry. He’s authored a trilogy of novelettes chronicling the adventures of an aromatic super hero known as Skunk-Guy. Turtle Soup (2011), his first world premiere play, was produced by all for One, with Michael in the starring role of Gale Harris. (Michael has acted frequently with afO since 2003.) He is currently producing a radio comedy podcast titled The Temp. Michael is married to Cindy, and they have a lovely teenage daughter, Josette.