Matt and Ben Foreshadows Stardom for Its Characters, and Possibly the Production, Too (4.5 stars)

by Johnny Monsarrat

 

Matt and Ben, produced by the LL Production Company, starring Lauren Robinson and Libby Schap, runs monthly at The Riot Theater. See www.theriottheater.com and Matt and Ben on Facebook.

 

Boston's most famous movie stars, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, have been friends since high school, and shot to stardom on their script for Good Will Hunting. How did they do it? Set in 1995, the play imagines the actors as exaggerated versions of themselves. Ben, who will go on to tabloid covers, is stupid but has natural talent. Matt is a type A personality who plays straight man to Ben's antics. The play runs regularly at the Riot Theater in Jamaica Plain, but I happened to catch it on tour at the Davis Square Theatre, soon to be renamed the Rockwell.

 

The play is notable for the impressions of its actors, both women, which is the way it was envisioned by Mindy Kaling and Brenda Withers, who wrote and originated the in 2003. I saw a clip of the original and the impressions of the local production are better.

 

Libby Schap (Ben) is tall with a long face,a bit like Ben Affleck, and seems to come from the hood in her sweat jacket an backwards baseball cap. Her "I know what I'm doing" goofy Ben Affleck grin is pitch perfect and she brings an innocence to the reckless energy so that no matter how much trouble Ben stirs up, it's hard to be mad at him.

 

Lauren Robinson (Matt) dresses in a buttoned work shirt and dockers like a Harvard student. The play is set too early for the hard stare Jason Bourne version of Matt Damon. Instead we get the overly earnest character he played from Good Will Hunting. She allows Matt to simmer with frustration and be controlling but with such good heat that you empathize rather than hate him.

 

The results are hilarious, but also heartwarming. As the two fight over the script, you realize that their very different approaches create a synergy.

 

After the show, the two kindly agreed to an interview.

 

*Lauren Robinson: We decided to create our own theatre company, and self-direct, and find our own theatre manager and tech.

 

Evetns INSIDER: How did you develop your personas?

 

Libby Schap: We first talked about who wanted what parts, and what parts we thought we were going to relate to the most. But at some point in the rehearsal process, it was very clear which should play which.

 

Lauren Robinson: It just suits our personalities so much for Libby to play Ben, and me to play Matt.

 

Libby Schap: It's quite possible I've been training my whole life to play Ben Affleck.

 

Libby Schap: I watched a clip from Boiler Room where Ben Affleck comes on and does a speech about closing a sale. There are a lot of Ben Affleck mannerisms and Ben Affleck affectations.

 

Lauren Robinson: Just watching his movies, Matt is super type A, and that's who I am anyways, so I'm just going to lean into it. I lead from my jaw, so it's helpful.

 

Events INSIDER: How do you describe the play to people who have not heard of it?

 

Lauren Robinson: I always lead with, it's the play that got Mindy Kaling her job at The Office [ the TV show ]. She and Brenda Withers wrote it when they graduated college. They ended up winning the New York Fringe Festival. It's a fun comedy. It's the made up story of what might have happened if the screenplay for Good Will Hunting had just fallen from the sky.

 

Events INSIDER: Matt Damon and Ben Affleck come from Boston, of course, and have family here they must still visit. Do you have a fantasy where they come to the show?

 

Libby Schap: We tweet at Mindy Kaling all the time.

 

Lauren Robinson: We would love it if Mindy Kaling came to the show.

 

Lauren Robinson: We've been doing the show for a year now. It's so much fun to do, and the reason why we keep doing it is that we get great responses from audiences all the time.

 

Do you like to "be there before they were famous?". Matt and Ben isn't just the story of two Boston yokels who make it big from 1995. It might be Libby and Lauren's backstory to fame as well. 4.5 stars.

 

See www.theriottheater.com and Matt and Ben on Facebook.