Matt & Ben
By Mindy Kaling and Brenda Withers
April 21-30 at 7:30 p.m. * $25
The real Matt (Damon) and Ben (Affleck) had been chums since elementary school. They co-wrote 1997’s “Good Will Hunting,” a screenplay which won an Oscar and catapulted them from anonymity to stardom. That kind of break doesn’t happen every day.
‘You’re not a writer’
“Matt and Ben” takes that improbability and whimsically exaggerates it. The play opens in 1995, with the still-unknown Ben and Matt crouched amid pizza boxes in Affleck’s slobby apartment, laboriously typing . . . a film adaptation of “Catcher in the Rye.”
“I’m saying to this you as a friend,” Matt says, surveying their work, “You’re not a writer.”
That’s when the screenplay for “Good Will Hunting” literally drops from the sky, giving the boys their long-hoped for chance at fame. How they react to this miracle — whether they’ll take credit for the script, and what old grudges of theirs emerge to churn against new fears — is the basis of the rest of the play.
Matt is an antsy type-A personality who drives himself to succeed at everything. Ben is lazy but a natural winner — the kind of guy, as Matt says, “who uses the word ‘chillaxing’ because he feels there is something missing in just ‘chilling’ and ‘relaxing’.”
We learn from flashback that the unlikely couple first joined up as high school talent show partners. Ben’s class clown antics sabotaged geeky Matt’s guitar ballad but won them the competition. It’s a fitting setup for their future relationship: Ben thinks Matt is controlling and over-intense, and Ben thinks Matt only succeeds through dumb luckemphasis on dumb. They stick together because they admire each other’s talent, and because they share an inexplicable bond that the new screenplay will sorely test.
The play’s greatest charm is the creative freedom it gives itself. Characters break out of scenes to address the audience, enact flashback sequences and are visited by a litany of cameos that run from highto lowbrow. Specters of J.D. Salinger and Gwyneth Paltrow play Iago to Ben and Matt respectively, and in the process roast everyone from John Steinbeck to John Woo. (Sample line: “David Schwimmer is a terrible actor with one expression, and he looks like a mushroom.”)
Funny, sharp and never sentimental, “Matt and Ben” dissects male bonding with a knife that occasionally draws blood. If you go to see it, bring a friend along. Some things are meant to be shared. Winning an Oscar is only one of them.