Regional Reviews: Los Angeles
Matt & Ben
Also see Sharon's review of Safe in Hell
Mindy Kaling and Brenda Withers' Off-Broadway hit, Matt & Ben is fast and furious ... and funny as hell.
The concept is deceptively simple: the two women portray Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, back when they're sharing a Boston apartment and trying to write their first script. Right off the bat, Kaling and Withers make it clear that their story is not entirely based on reality. They posit that Good Will Hunting wasn't actually written by the boys, but instead fell from the sky into their laps. So the play that you're watching isn't really about Damon and Affleck as you know them through tabloid stories and movie successes, it's just about two friends and what they do when the best script they've ever seen magically appears in their living room.
Well, that's not entirely true. By basing their show on Damon and Affleck, Kaling and Withers get loads of laughs by playing caricatures of the real Hollywood stars. Withers plays Matt as the intellectual of the two - he's the brains of this operation and the better actor. He's also something of a dork. In comparison, Kaling's Ben is the friendly, playful, outgoing one who gets all the girls - but he's a complete moron. (When the show starts, Matt and Ben are trying to adapt Catcher in the Rye into a screenplay by typing it, line by line, into script form. Ben sits at his computer and asks Matt to read him the next page of the novel "and, as usual, please spell any words you think I may have trouble with.")
And once Good Will Hunting falls from the sky, our two heroes face moral dilemmas aplenty. No, not whether they should claim the script as their own - of course they're going to do that - but Matt wonders whether he should carry his loser friend along with him on the script, and both men fight over who gets to play Will. (A highlight of the play is when they act out a scene from the script, with Matt playing Will and Ben in the Minnie Driver role. And if you think that's funny, wait till they switch parts.)
The play is sprinkled with flashbacks and dream sequences, ultimately has its heart in the right place, and wraps everything up in a quick one-hour running time. It's well-written, well-played, and inspired - if the script for Matt & Ben fell from the sky into Kaling and Withers's hands, they sure knew what to do with it.
Matt & Ben runs at the ACME Comedy Theatre in Hollywood through May 16, 2004. For information, see www.mattandben.com.
Victoria Lang & Pier Paolo Piccoli; Stephen Pevner; Jason Hsiao; in association with Stephanie Steele and Lisa Ullmann present Matt & Ben. Written and Performed by Mindy Kaling & Brenda Withers. Set Design James Youmans; Lighting Design Jeff Croiter; Sound Design Fitz Patton; Costume Design Anne Sung; Production Stage Manager Marie Turcotte; Press Representative David Elzer/DEMAND PR; Management Consultants Martian Entertainment, Inc. Directed by David Warren.
Photo by Jason Lindberg