With its season opener, Bentley, all for One establishes what distinguishes it from other theatre companies in Fort Wayne. Both funny and spiritual, edgy and profound, Bentley skewers contemporary entertainment while deftly incorporating messages of hope, grace, and redemption into a laugh-filled romp.
Playwright Michael Wilhelm has said that his original inspiration for the story was the screwball comedy My Man Godfrey, which proved a bit dated for a true adaptation. Wilhelm’s decision to ground the story in the contemporary world of reality television and social media was a brilliant move, giving the story a richness and familiarity for modern audiences.
The script offers plenty of physical comedy and great one-liners, and whenever the message begins to get serious — as it does later in the second act particularly — it mines humor to lighten the moment. There is also a great deal of warmth among the cast members, each well suited to their roles. There are moments in the show that also invoke Being There, a 1970 Jerzy Kosinski novel turned into a 1979 tour de force for Peter Sellers. In the title role of Bentley, Nate Chen demonstrates some of the Sellers stoicism and mild confusion about the world into which he has been thrust, but unlike Chance the Gardner, Bentley isn’t completely oblivious or naïve, and his own backstory provides much of the redemptive spirit of the play.
The rest of the cast also shines, with Kevin Keats, Teresa Bowers, and Connor Beer providing the perfect foils for the delightful performances of Bridget Bogdon and Megan Speith. The quintet portray the Carvers, a quasi-Kardashian family at the center of the reality series. The two young women both nail their parts, with Bogdon providing the cynical counterpoint to a very Judy Greer-like performance from Speith.
Matt Faley as the Carvers’ producer and Jennifer Netting as Carver maid Marge both provide comedic support, but if anyone steals the show it may very well be J. Scott Kump, the starstruck cop whose love of his job is matched only by his love of the camera.
There are plenty of great touches that really sell the show, including the oft-used “isolation closet” interviews and the spot-on Carver show-opening sequence. The resulting product demonstrates that both Wilhelm and Bentley director Lauren Nichols have their finger on the pulse of modern culture while never losing sight of all for One’s larger message. It’s a show that is sure to resonate for audiences for years to come.