Review: Matt and Ben – like delightful gossip from our favourite check-out stand magazines

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Script for Goodwill Hunting revealed to have fallen from sky.  Ben Affleck IQ confirmed to be as low as it appears.  Two women play Affleck and Damon in Hollywood parody.  National Enquirer headlines from the turn of the century you ask?  No, just some of the fun that is waiting for you at the Fighting Chance Productions presentation of Matt and Ben, on now at the Havana Theatre through March 13th.

Matt and BenHow did Matt Damon and Ben Affleck rise to such heights in the early part of this century?  According to playwrights Mindy Kaling and Brenda Withers it all started, in a clever send-up of deus ex machina, with the script for Goodwill Hunting literally falling from the sky (or ceiling in this case), complete with Matt and Ben’s names already on the by-line.

The play opens with Ben (Katherine Gauthier) and Matt (Rebecca Strom) working on an adaption, which we are reminded on a couple of occasions is the highest form of flattery, of JD Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye.  Matt reads from the book as Ben transcribes it word-for-word onto the computer, all-the-while insisting Matt spend some extra time spelling out the difficult words.

But once the Goodwill Hunting script suddenly appears on the scene, the adaptation is quickly forgotten as the two struggle with what to do with the best script they have ever read and the conflict it creates between them.

Both Gauthier and Strom do terrific jobs in their roles here but it really is Gauthier that seems to channel the essence, not an outright impersonation, of Ben Affleck with an ease that at times was as uncanny as the concept of the script’s arrival.  Don’t get me wrong though as Strom also does a great job here, but unlike Gauthier I never did get the same connection between her and the real Matt Damon; but then that might simply have been because Matt is not as easy comic fodder as Ben.

Gauthier and Strom work well together on stage which was most evident in a hilarious scene where the two trade-off reading from the Goodwill Hunting script and in a very funny fight scene.  They also have great comedic timing and, for the most part, keep the quick pace demanded here.  A few times I did find Strom struggling with suppressing a smile as the audience laughed and while it probably would go unnoticed in a larger venue, within the small confines of the Havana that sort of acting faux pas is so much more evident.

Of course, at no time during the short 70 minute runtime do we forget Gauthier and Strom are playing two men. But in the end we really don’t care as the gender bending allows for a greater suspension of belief and the forgiveness for any exacting comparisons to Matt and Ben that two men would have endured.

Director Laura McLean has done a great job working with Gauthier and Strom to ensure they don’t overstep their caricatures and while she helps to keep the pacing brisk through most of the show I did find things dragged down a bit in the scenes when the two other characters make appearances.

While perhaps a little past its prime, Matt and Ben still manages to play out like delightful gossip from our favourite check-out stand magazines.  Here we can justify our love-hate relationship with Hollywood celebs and besides, anything that can reaffirm my belief that Ben Affleck really is the stupid one is a good thing.

3 1/2 of 5 StarsMatt and Ben
Havana Theatre, 1212 Commercial Drive
2 – 13 March 2010

Matt & Ben tells the hilarious story of two best buddies: Matt Damon & Ben Affleck who, while attempting to write an adaptation of JD Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, have another script fall from the sky and right into their laps. They argue about whether it’s a gift from the Gods or a darker power while examining their rocky friendship. Laughs abound, right in time for Oscar season! 

Tickets are $18 – $21.50 available online or by calling 604.684-2787.

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