Class 6 Theatre's Matt & Ben: A Sharp, Funny, Oddly Moving Analysis of Friendship and Celebrity

When playwright Greg Kotis was here a few weeks ago, he theorized that his script Eat the Taste -- in which a playwright is kidnapped by mysterious operatives and urged to write a one-man Broadway show about and starring former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft -- is not produced particularly often because its premise was of a particular moment in American history and culture, and perhaps that moment has come and gone.

However, iTheatre Collaborative's Eat the Taste was enormously enjoyable in late 2008, even though Ashcroft's profile faded not long after he left office in 2005, despite his curiously compelling oeuvre of such ditties as "Let the Eagle Soar." Some people's legacies are timeless.

Or else the idea that they are is silly enough to be interesting for a long time. Or, heck, both. Hence the delightfulness of Matt & Ben, which tickled funny bones in New York way back in 2003 and is only now premièring in Arizona, courtesy of Class 6 Theatre -- even though Good Will Hunting came out, oh, sweet Jesus, 14 years ago now.

Two young actresses, Mindy Kaling and Brenda Withers, wondered, as many have, how a couple of mooks from Cambridge (Ben Affleck and Matt Damon) went from struggling to golden on the back of a single script that seemed to have materialized out of thin air. So, on behalf of understandably bitter and perplexed film folk everywhere, they wrote a play in which the screenplay, well, had.

The title characters, originally played by the authors, are still played by two young women, which cements the distance from reality at exactly where it should be. We're therefore spared the pointless bother of wondering whether their casting is a good "choice" -- but Kristina Rogers and Mallory Adams, in the hands of Class 6 founder and artistic director Eric Schoen, do a fabulous job creating two very different and complementary personalities: a hyper-serious, hard-working, driven professional (Damon, as we're given to understand) and a charming, popular, visceral-yet-savvy seducer (Affleck), whose craving for fame is as powerful as his best buddy's hunger for excellence.

Matt & Ben's references to pop culture, high culture, gossip, industry shenanigans, and the nature of fame are quite funny. The show's just over an hour long and is relentlessly paced. But the finest work to be seen here, I'm convinced, is the depiction of the relationship between the two characters, which appears deep, complex, and very real.

Among the several ironies highlighted by the production is that the phrase "mixed reviews and box-office success," used incessantly to describe careers such as Damon's, describes exactly the opposite of what's happening at the theater. Why aren't more people talking up this show and attending it in droves? Fill up those seats, people! And be sure to stay after for a few minutes to listen to the boys' Oscar acceptance speech.

Matt & Ben continues through Sunday, February 20, at Mesa Arts Center, One East Main Street. Tickets are $23, although the Wednesday, February 16 performance (tonight!) is pay-what-you-can at the door. Order tickets for other shows here or call 480-644-6500.

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Julie has written for the Night & Day events calendar section since 2005. As a student at Arizona State, she received the Glendon and Kathryn Swarthout Creative Writing Award and the Theatre Medallion of Merit.
Contact: Julie Peterson