“Matt & Ben,” the latest production from Over The Ledge Theatre Co., is the story of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck writing “Good Will Hunting” — sort of. To start with, the actors who portrayed them look nothing like the celebrities. In fact, the two performers were women. Erin Hoffman mastered the role of Matt, while Shannon Bowen shined as Ben. Presenting the leading men as ladies is only the beginning of the play’s nuttiness — and its eyebrow-raising appeal.
“Matt & Ben” was a wild ride that was sometimes absurd, sometimes hilarious and frequently bat-guano crazy — in a good way. The play, which clocks in at about 70 minutes without an intermis- sion, rolled along crazy rails in a manner that was never dull. I never looked at the time, and I forgot all about the concession stand candy in my pocket.
Mindy Kaling — of “The Office” and “The Mindy Project” fame — and Brenda Withers are the authors of this play about authors who shared an apartment. To describe the duo’s imagination, a cliché like “the sky’s the limit” seems insufficient. “Beyond the atmosphere” is a better descriptor. Their “Matt & Ben” script is crammed with unique shocks, sight gags, parodies, comedic banter, sad spots and weirdness — lots of weirdness.
The engaging play is centered on the collaboration behind “Good Will Hunting,” the breakout film that earned an Oscar for both Damon and Affleck. Kaling and Withers certainly did their homework on the screenwriters, including factual references to their schooling and shared backgrounds, but the play careens between real life events and fantasy side trips.
Hoffman and Bowen handled the entire spectrum — and multiple accents — spectacularly well. They made this play, which makes fun of celebrities, actors, writers and show biz in general, a fun and busy show to watch. Bowen also took the stage briefly to imitate Gwyneth Paltrow. I admit that I did not immediately realize the feminine-looking Paltrow was the same actor who played Ben. The play also includes a scene where infamous former recluse J.D. Salinger — played with sweet sarcasm by Hoffman — wanders into the apartment. The surprise is even more hysterical, because Ben, in this retelling, had actually been trying to write a screenplay of “Catcher in the Rye.”
Emily Clark’s seamless direction and substantial set and Joe Dickson’s spot-on spotlights added to the charm. The performance was worth enduring in Over the Ledge’s, un-air-conditioned barn on a hot summer night. The occasional passing motorcycles or talkative Fitzgerald Park -goers could not interrupt my focus on the energetic and focused performers on the stage. (A stage that was certainly made even hotter by bright lighting.)
I truly was amused by “Matt & Ben.” It is regrettable that last Friday night’s audience — one that might have been considered large for a Thanksgiving dinner party — did not feel large at all in such an ample theatre. There were no noticable dialog missteps or evident miscues on the stage. But it would be a mistake for local theater-goers to overlook this over-the-top Over the Ledge play.
Matt & Ben
Over the Ledge Theatre Co. 8 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 11-Saturday, Aug. 13; 2 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 14. $10/$8 seniors/$6 students The Ledges Playhouse 137 Fitzgerald Park Drive, Grand Ledge (517) 318-0579, overtheledge.org