Tuesday, May 16, 2023

"Matt & Ben" by Nocturnal Giraffe Theater at Bryant Lake Bowl

As a superfan of The Office, I've long heard about Mindy Kaling's play Matt & Ben, which she wrote and starred in with her friend Brenda Withers prior to being hired as a writer/actor on the show. So when I heard that Nocturnal Giraffe Theatre, who brought us the delightful comedy PiƱata at last year's Fringe, was doing it at BLB, there's no way I was going to miss this chance to see an early work from one of my favorite funny people. I was not disappointed; it's the perfect 80-minute comedy about celebrity, show business, and friendship, expertly brought to life by Nocturnal Giraffe. Whether or not you're a fan of Mindy Kaling, or Matt Damon, or Ben Affleck, this is a fun dinner and a show opportunity at BLB, through May 19 only (click here for tickets).

Katie Consamus as Ben (photo by Jared Fessler)
It's sometime in the mid-90s, and struggling actor Matt Damon has come over to the apartment of his friend Ben Affleck, also a struggling actor, to work on their screenplay adaptation of Catcher in the Rye (of which there still has never been a movie adaptation made). Suddenly, a script falls out of the sky; the screenplay for Good Will Hunting, with their names on it as the authors! Where did it come from? Should they pretend that they wrote it? And most importantly, who will play the lead? In the cleverly written script, both characters break out of the story occasionally to talk to the audience, we see a few flashbacks of their lifelong friendship, and also get some fantastical visits from Gwyneth Paltrow and J.D. Salinger. The two friends are portrayed very differently - Matt as the hard-worker who makes things happen, Ben as the carefree charismatic guy just sort of coasting through life. Despite the tension this sometimes causes in their relationship, the two work together to get this movie made (and win an Oscar!).

Elizabeth Efteland as Matt (photo by Jared Fessler)
Jillian Robertson directs the show with humor and playfulness and a sort of tongue-in-cheek quality, making good use of the BLB stage, especially the downstairs stage entrance, which feels very natural as the apartment entrance. The fantasy sequences, flashbacks, and monologues are handled well with lighting changes. Elizabeth Efteland and Katie Consamus are great as Matt and Ben, with a believable and sometimes prickly chemistry between them. It's kind of delightful to watch two women play exaggerated versions of these two now famous Boston bros. The show contains lots of Easter eggs and references to the era and the boys' careers, including a poster for School Ties (in German), a photo of Ben's beloved brother Casey, and a vintage computer. The detailed set also contains a comfy old couch and a shelf full of snacks for a lived in feel.

Only three more performances remain of Matt & Ben - get tickets and check out the full Bryant Lake Bowl Theater schedule here.