When a script falls from the sky, it kicks off the careers of two of Hollywood’s biggest names — at least according to this celebrity satire. Matt & Ben performs at ArtsWest through October 1.
Watching the satirical play Matt & Ben, I’m reminded of a reveal in the reunion show for the farcical British sitcom Miranda, in which acclaimed actor Patricia Hodge dishes that she just couldn’t keep it together for a certain line. I already knew the one she was talking about. It’s where Hodge’s very proper Penny, recovering from a back injury at her title daughter’s flat, asserts, “I’ll have you know, I have the right to be demanding. I earned that right the minute I pushed a 10-pound you through my clacker.”
There aren’t any lines quite that rich in Matt & Ben, a 20-year-old play satirizing the origin story of Good Will Hunting with the feel of fan-fic meets farce, written and originally performed by Mindy Kaling and Brenda Withers. But it doesn’t need them. In the production on now at ArtsWest, Nabilah Ahmed and Jacquelyn Miedema are so damn funny, and so convincing in their dude-bro repartee swirled with physical comedy throughout — Ahmed, as Withers’ Matt Damon caricature, is stuffing oversized pizza slices down her trap while ramble-lying about a two-hour errand; Miedema, as Kaling’s take on Ben Affleck, determinedly struggles with hunt-and-peck in between daft observations — that, on a few well-timed occasions, even they can’t keep it together. And while it had to feel weird to break character so visibly, seeing the actors get that into it just amped up the opening-night audience’s response.
Here, as with great farce, the heroes in Matt & Ben are the actors themselves, and Ahmed and Miedema are brilliant. So too is direction by Zenaida Rose Smith. Combined, they bring this script — largely devoid of stage directions, other than some dramatized in Ahmed-as-Matt’s lines — and its famous characters to a vivid and convincing roll. The audience went happily along.
But this is meant to be satire, and it’s a bit more pointed than slap-happy farce. The setup itself, in which two women perform these dude-bro characterizations, lands a lot differently than it would if men did them. The script and Ahmed and Miedema’s exchanges, both verbal and physical, suggest further themes: entitlement, predestination, presumption, and the joy and privilege of being oblivious. What likely started as a riff on late ‘90s/early ‘00s celebrity gossip headlines — and there are plenty of those mixed in — now conveys a bubbling sense of how did we get to this?
You can follow those threads of thought as deeply as you’d like, or just abide in the shallows of its humor. Matt & Ben is a clever show, an early work from two creators who’ve amassed plenty of show-biz insight. But, thanks to relentless (and infectious) energy from Ahmed and Miedema, mostly it’s just fucking hilarious.
In a post-show toast on opening night, Artistic Director Mathew Wright shared an unlikely observation: “I hope this is the coolest place to be in Seattle this year. I hope this is the funnest place.”
Live theatre, on the Peninsula of West Seattle no less, the coolest spot in the city? That might be some pie-in-the-sky optimism.
But with a season like this one, and an opening like this, don’t call it too far-fetched.
Matt & Ben runs through 10/1 at ArtsWest in West Seattle. Tickets are $48.50, here. Accessibility notes: restrooms are multi-stall and gendered; theatre and common areas are wheelchair accessible. Financial accessibility note: if ticket prices are a barrier to access, enter the code “inclusion” during the checkout process for $18.50 tickets.
Run time: 85 minutes, no intermission.
Chase D. Anderson is Editor & Producer of NWTheatre.org.