“Matt & Ben” Funny for the Bostonian in You

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Presented by The Riot Theatre
Witten by Mindy Kaling & Brenda Withers

November 27, December 11 (sold out!), 2015, 4th Saturday of the month in January, February, March. Performances in Davis Square on April 8 & 9, 2016
The Riot Theater
Jamaica Plain, MA
Matt & Ben in Boston on Facebook

Review by Travis Manni

(Jamaica Plain, MA) The story of Ben Affleck and Matt Damon’s friendship is a bit before my time. I knew they were a pair of Bostonians, but I didn’t get what the big deal was. But the bromance that’s put on display in The Riot Theatre’s production of Matt & Ben was enough to get me on board for the comedic ride.

The show dabbles in the strange hypothetical of the Good Will Hunting screenplay falling from the ceiling of Ben’s (Libby Schap) Boston apartment. It has his and Matt’s (Lauren Robinson) names on it, and it could be the big break that the two need to make it into the Hollywood scene. Basically, it’s a wicked good script.

While Matt is a bit more traditionally trained in acting, Ben is equally dedicated but isn’t as focused. Torn between adapting The Catcher in the Rye into a screenplay and pursuing this totally original script that manifested itself from nowhere, the hour-long comedy is full of quippy dialogue that plays perfectly for a Boston audience, as it was intended. It’s a true Boston bromance between two men, but played by women.

The chemistry between the two leading actors was so apparent that the gender-bending never felt out of place. Libby Schap as Ben really gives it her all. Her accent and mannerisms steal the show and make Affleck immediately loveable. During a dream sequence, her portrayal of Gwyneth Paltrow solidified her commitment to telling this fantastical story. Co-star Lauren Robinson as Damon is on equal footing, though doesn’t truly establish a relationship with the audience until her portrayal of J.D. Salinger, the odd and notorious author of The Catcher in the Rye. While she gives Damon the more serious, professional characteristics he needs, it’s hard to compete with Affleck’s comedic, boyish charm.

The staging of this production was my only gripe with the show. There is a desk and computer, which Ben sits and types at several times, implanted in the back of the audience, forcing viewers to turn around. While it was a realistic and understandable idea, considering the small theatre space, my vantage point was no competition for the chunky Mac computer. The play itself is funny, warranting a decent amount of belly laughs from the audience. But most weren’t exactly clever; they were simply reactions to jokes targeted at a Boston audience.

 

Matt & Ben certainly works best as a Boston show, and is worth the late-night giggle at a small, Jamaica Plain theatre. However, I wonder how well the play itself would hold up for an audience unfamiliar with Boston clichés. Lucky for you, you won’t have to worry about that, as The Riot Theatre will host two more shows on November 27 and December 11 at 10pm. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased here.

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