MATT & BEN
nytheatre.com review by Eric Winick
By this point, with back-to-back summer releases of The Bourne
Identity and The Sum of All Fears, the diametrically-opposed
styles and personalities of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck are so firmly
etched that many have forgotten their "humble" beginnings as scribes of
the Oscar-winning screenplay Good Will Hunting. Not Mindy Kaling
and Brenda Withers, the Dartmouth-educated creators of Matt & Ben, a
scathing commentary on the creation of that much-lauded work. With a few
sharp, well-placed kicks, these two talented comediennes remind us that,
before they were stars, these boys were just a couple of underworked
Everyactors chasing pipe dreams of literary stardom.
August 15, 2002
Set in Ben’s apartment, which is appropriately adorned with Red Sox banners and a School Ties poster, we meet the boys as they are attempting, fruitlessly, to adapt Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye for the screen. What follows is less a meditation on talent and its many guises than a cautionary tale on the nature of artistic collaboration. When a copy of the Hunting script drops mysteriously from the heavens (realism, be gone), the boys realize they’re being tested by a Higher Power; at stake is nothing less than the bond of friendship that has served them for well over a decade.
There’s much that’s hilarious here, and if the acting is uneven, the writing and unbridled sense of invention more than compensate for the production’s weaker moments. My initial concern that the premise would sustain its novelty no longer than, say, a half-hour, proved unfounded. The authors get considerable mileage out of exploiting the differences between the boys, almost to the point of contempt: while Damon (Withers) is portrayed as a serious-minded, khaki-clad artiste, Affleck (Kaling) comes off as a semi-illiterate boob who subsists on a diet of Kix and Gatorade. Although both are thanked in the program, it’s unclear as to whether they gave their blessing to the production; audiences expecting a loving tribute had best look elsewhere. By the time the boys realize they’re nothing without each other, you may be tempted to wonder just what their appeal is as individuals.