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Damon and Affleck get roasted in Cleveland Public Theatre’s fast and funny Matt & Ben



Some plays are critically shrugged off because they have a one-joke premise that's never fully developed. Nevertheless, one good joke can make your week.

The gag at work in the two-person Matt & Ben, now at Cleveland Public Theatre, is watching two women play screenwriters/actors/mini-icons Matt Damon and Ben Affleck during the creation of their Oscar-winning script for Good Will Hunting.

The playwrights, Mindy Kaling and Brenda Withers, poke the boys with a criticism that was common at the time: How the hell did these two schlubs come up with a movie this good?

The old friends from Boston are holed up in Affleck's trash-and-comic-book-strewn apartment, ostensibly laboring over an adaptation of J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye. That's when the GWH script falls from the heavens, through their ceiling, and onto the floor in front of them — completely written, with their names on the title page as authors.

The one-act goes on to illustrate how uptight, focused Matt deals with slovenly, moronic Ben, and vice versa. These broad characterizations are only vaguely representative of Affleck and Damon. But that doesn't impede the humor, as they battle over who will play Will and launch acidic observations about others in the industry.

Kaling and Withers, the writers, were the original stars of their play. Here, Nicole Perrone is an oddly believable Matt, who's revealed as an earnest and talented guy, even in the flashback to his days with Affleck in high school. As Ben, Elizabeth R. Wood masters many dude-like mannerisms, but her over-the-top approach becomes excessively buffoonish.

There are amusing cameos by Gwyneth Paltrow and J.D. Salinger, who help nail down the two furthermost ends of the fight-or-flight reaction to pop-culture fame. Wood does Paltrow as a classic Hollywood diva; Perrone is priceless in her slouchy cameo as Salinger (even with an inconsistent New Yawk accent).

All the while, director Dan Kilbane keeps the laughs coming, although the scene where the boys alternate reading Will and Skylar dialogue falls oddly flat. Even so, this joke has enough staying power to last the 75-minute running time.

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