Bailey Preston & Ali Gautier in Matt and Ben. Photo: ULTC
Matt and Ben
By Mindy Kaling and Brenda Withers
Directed by Crystian Wiltshire
A review by Kate Barry
Entire contents are copyright © 2023 by Kate Barry. All rights reserved.
Two struggling actors in Hollywood are blessed with a mysterious script that changes their lives forever. One is sloppy with movie star good looks while the other is responsible and knowledgeable of theater. Matt and Ben is a clever re-imagining of how Matt Damon and Ben Affleck became overnight sensations with their passion project Good Will Hunting in 1997. In a very limited run at Planet of the Tapes, The Untitled Louisville Theater Company mounted this play which explores what it means to dream big and to just go for it.
You almost cannot think of a time when Matt Damon and Ben Affleck were not focal points of pop culture. Before Affleck’s highly publicized marriages, Argo and Damon’s beef with Jimmy Kimmel and the Jason Bourne series, Matt and Ben show the movie stars as a couple of schmucks sharing an apartment, fresh off their School Ties debut with hopes of making it big by drafting their own film adaptation of Cather In The Rye. Beyond that, the action is all made up with much delight and a full wink to the audience.
The stage at Planet of the Tapes is a perfect venue for this one act. The set is a messy apartment with snacks, dirty laundry, and a desktop computer properly placed. Affleck’s headshot is strategically placed front and center while his brother, Casey, is appropriately placed to the side of the stage with red caution tape, a clever nod to the actor’s notorious behavior. In case you do not know these movie stars, interview footage is shown at the top of the show reminding you how the two celebrities were compared against each other in terms of likability, talent, and attraction. Ben is the hot one while Matt is the one with the talent. The script shows how accurate yet untrue these labels are and Bailey Preston and Ali Gautier do well as Matt and Ben.
Embracing an Odd Couple quality, Preston and Gautier run the gambit in emotions as Matt and Ben deal with competition with one another yet endlessly supporting each other as childhood friends. As Ben, Ali Gautier brings a carefree yet obnoxious tone. Liberally throwing around “gay” with vivacity in a Red Socks hat, this is a Ben with chaotic-bro energy. While these boisterous moments play effectively for laughs, at times these bits called for a calmer approach. In other scenes where Ben is unable to spell big words or understand basic literary terms, the performance comes across as buffoonery. Luckily, Gautier is able to round out her rendition of the future Batman with a reading from Good Will Hunting that makes you wonder what it would have been like if the actors had swapped roles. Additionally, her appearance as Gwenyth Paltrow is perfectly executed and takes on a different meaning for the former actress who stood trial this year.
Bailey Preston creates a Harvard dropout try-hard who is almost as insufferable as Ben in her turn as Matt. Armed with Ivy League knowledge, Preston’s Matt has the right stuff but is constantly frustrated by Hollywood. While Matt is driven to become an actor, Preston heightens the sense of urgency and know-how every struggling actor faces. With the baggage of a ruined talent and hiding details of a major play audition, Preston plays an imperfect actor who wants fame just as much as his friend.
On the surface, Matt and Ben is a before-they-were-stars spoof of two of the biggest celebrities in Hollywood. Upon reflection, this play is a tribute to anyone with dreams of stardom. After all the fighting, and hurt feelings, there is still hope and camaraderie. And as Matt and Ben rose to stardom, they always had each other.
Matt and Ben
November 24 & 25, 2023
Kate Barry has worked with many different companies around town since graduating in 08 from Bellarmine University. She’s worked with CenterStage, Kentucky Shakespeare Festival, Bunbury Theater, Louisville Repertory Company, Walden Theater, Finnigan Productions. She used to work in the box office at that little performing arts center on Main Street but now she helps save the planet. In 2012, her short play “PlayList” won festival favorite in the Finnigan Festival of Funky Fresh Fun. Her play “Catcher Released” won an honorable mention with the Kentucky Playwrites Workshop. She has written for LEO Weekly and TheatreLouisville.com as well. When she is not writing, she teaches yoga. Thanks for reading!