These guys are probably glad this review hasn’t yet hit the site. I’m posting it here for now.

Matt and Ben

Imitation is the highest form of dullness

In 1995 Matt Damon and Ben Affleck were little known actors. By 1997, after they won Academy Awards for Good Will Hunting, they fell drunk on media attention. Soon enough their hangover arrived — lousy movie choices and misbehavior on Affleck’s part, too much hearty ambition and iconoclasm for Damon — and they grew vulnerable to satire.

When it premiered Off-Broadway in 2003, the script for Matt and Ben — thanks mainly to Affleck’s much scrutinized romance with Jennifer Lopez — had the wet dazzle and slow pomp of celebrity folly. Five years later, it retains as much juicy relevance as an old sewer-drowned copy of Us Weekly.

The play chronicles a memorable afternoon in Affleck’s dingy apartment. Affleck and Damon are busy adapting a screenplay of Catcher in the Rye. Things move slowly, no thanks to Affleck’s dim-witted attention span and Damon’s overzealous desire for perfection, when a magic script falls from the sky … i.e. Good Will Hunting.

The script’s arrival charts a parlous course for these childhood friends, one that exposes their different personalities and challenges their friendship.

The twist arrives as two females — instead of men — portray Affleck and Damon. Experimental and ambitious playwrights use liberty with whom and how they execute their stories. In the case of Matt and Ben, casting two women merely effeminates the characters to the point of ridiculousness. Affleck and Damon bicker like two college girls stuck inside on a rainy afternoon. They pull embarrassing memories from their closets and treat the audience to flashbacks that reenact their lifelong relationship.

Actresses Christina Rhodes and Andrea K. McGinn lend their characters as much life as they can muster. But their performances are flat, transparent, and wearisome. But then again, they are right on the money depicting their characters. I don’t blame them for this play’s failure, as they really try to make Matt and Ben interesting. Rather, I blame the script. This play is like a lame Saturday Night Live movie.

Matt and Ben in not without value: it provides two young actresses a springboard from which they can leap. It also examines a power struggle between friends, their quick flight towards stardom and omniscient descent.

The play often steps outside of itself. It addresses the audience and sometimes speaks from behind the stage’s wings. The two actresses double as J.D Salinger and Gwyneth Paltrow, they perform a funny rendition of an intense scene from Good Will Hunting.

At the beginning of the play Affleck recites, “Adaptation is the highest form of flattery.”

This, of course, is a spoof on Matt and Ben in itself, as the true adage, as Damon explains, goes, “Imitation is the highest form of flattery.”

Inspiration propelled Good Will Hunting, as well as earlier versions of Matt and Ben.

This production lacks imagination, yet is full of dull adaptation. It also shows how sharp you’ve got to be if you want to stay funny. —Kevin Murphy

Matt and Ben • May 29, June 4 at 9 p.m. • 1 hour 15 min. • $15 • American Theater, 446 King St. • (888) 374-2656

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