Monday, June 02, 2008

Matt & Ben

Mildly entertaining ‘MATT & BEN’ at Cleveland Public Theatre

I like a good comedy. I like a good comedy that has a message. I like a comedy that once I leave the theatre doesn’t evaporate from my memory before I get to the car. I don’t think ‘MATT & BEN,’ which is now on stage at Cleveland Public Theatre, fits those criteria.

It isn’t a bad play. It isn’t a bad production. I just don’t think it’s worth the time and effort that it takes to stage a script to get the results of this show.

With that said, let’s examine what ‘MATT AND BEN’ is all about. Yes, it concerns best friends Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. They, according to the plot, have just finished filming ‘SCHOOL TIES,’ a coming of age teenage flick. They are sitting in Ben’s living room, trying to adapt ‘CATCHER IN THE RYE’ into a movie. (No, it hasn’t been done as a movie because J. D. Salinger won’t give permission for filming.) All of a sudden a manuscript named ‘GOOD WILL HUNTING’ falls from the ceiling with their names on it as the authors. We spend the next 75 minutes as the boys work through whether they will claim it as their own. (Hint: they won the Academy Award for best screenplay for “GOOD WILL HUNTING.)

Written by Mindy Kaling and Brenda Withers, the script has some cute, some dumb, and a few very funny scenes.

Oh, by the way, Matt and Ben are played by two females. Yep, two women!
Why? I’m not sure, but Kaling says, "I think it helps the play come off as more affectionate than just mean and jealous." (I guess men are mean and jealous and women are affectionate.)

In the off-Broadway production Kaling and Withers played the roles. The reason? Kaling states, "We're not competing with them for roles, so there's no underlying bitterness or meanness towards them. It's also just funny to have Brenda and I playing them, because we obviously look completely different." Okay, if that’s what she thinks. As for me….I don’t get the real reason.

There is some gossipy stuff…mainly about Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben’s brother Casey and David Schwimmer. Not People magazine quality, but maybe mildly amusing.

The play suggests Affleck is kind of stupid (well, he didn’t get into Harvard as Damon did), but creative. Matt is the brighter, the more accomplished, and the better actor. (Reality seems to be bearing out the better actor part as he consistently appears in top flight flicks, while Ben, in general, is doing B-level gigs.

‘MATT AND BEN’ won Best Overall Production honors at the 2002 New York International Fringe Festival. I’m not sure why.

The CPT production, under the direction of Dan Kilbane, works as well as the script will let it. He has paced the show well.

Though I don’t necessarily agree with the character interpretations, they were consistent. Nicol Perrone (Matt) and Elizabeth Wood (Ben) don’t look, or sound, or have the charisma of the real guys; but, I guess that’s not the point. (I won’t even get into the subject of the lack of Boston accents, which the dynamic duo is famous for using.) The actresses both seemed to be having a good time. So, seemingly did much of the audience. As for me…I was mildly entertained.

Capsule judgement: ‘MATT AND BEN’ is one of those plays that many will enjoy. If you are looking for something other than light escapism, you may not be overjoyed. I just think that CPT is of a higher level than this script. If they are going to do comedies, “THE CONFESSIONS OF PUNCH AND JUDY,’ is a lot more CPT!