Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Theatre AUM: "Matt & Ben"

How did two best-friend actors Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, with no previous screenwriting experience, skyrocket from popular teen idols to the media darlings of the 1998 Academy Awards for their original screenplay of Good Will Hunting? Was it talent, or persistence, or connections, or propinquity?

In Matt & Ben -- a crafty 75-minute two-hander -- playwrights Mindy Kaling and Brenda Withers have the script literally fall from above into a squalid Boston apartment where the two of them are struggling to write an adaptation of J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye.

The bromance between Damon and Affleck is well documented, and Theatre AUM director Val Winkelman makes the most of the post-adolescent contradictions of two bros who tolerate each other's shortcomings, fight over trivialities, and forgive without hesitation.

If the mysterious delivery of the script wasn't enough, Kaling and Withers throw in some knockabout wrestling, and surreal visits from Affleck's one-time girlfriend Gwyneth Paltrow, and from the famously reclusive Salinger who refuses them the rights to adapting his novel, thereby emphasizing this play;s debate regarding the value of adaptation vs. original writing. -- Oh yes, and the roles are to be played by women.

Matt [Kate Saylor] is the branier of the two, while Ben [Emily Aveldanez] could be described as thick, and throughout the one-act these actors display appropriate characteristics and behavior and feed off one another comfortably. And they make it fairly easy for audiences to forget they are women playing men.

The pace and energy flag at times, so some of the wordplay, petty childish bickering, and competitive oneupmanship don't have the satirical bite or humorous effect called for in the script. -- In the last all-too-brief moment when their names are announced as the winners for original screenplay, Ms. Saylor and Ms. Aveldanez epitomize the joyful delight that Damon and Affeck exhibited at the Oscars.