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Penobscot Theatre Company’s “Matt & Ben” preview night

On Oct. 20, the Penobscot Theatre Company (PTC) had their first showing of the play “Matt & Benwritten by Mindy Kaling and Brenda Withers. It is the second show of their season and it was directed by Lavina Jadhwani. 

“Matt & Ben” is a satirical depiction of the two actors Matt Damon and Ben Affleck before they gained their fame and recognition through their film “Good Will Hunting.” The play has the script of “Good Will Hunting” literally falling from the sky and onto the two struggling boys. The show had its ups and downs, and at some points it had questionable creative choices, but in all it was an entertaining and wholesome piece of theater that raises questions of the morality of art and creative differences. 

The Thursday showing was considered a “preview night.” For theaters, nights like this provide public performances that take place before its official opening. It is an opportunity for the creative teams to view the production in action, see how the audience reacts and act accordingly on what they need to improve and adjust on. 

From the initial viewing, the production was great. The director did a great job with the actors’ blockings. The set was beautiful, it felt like we were actually in the apartment of a 20-something-year-old man. However, the problem lies within the script. Some of the writing felt odd and out of place. It is a satire after all, but it doesn’t need to sacrifice writing to have quality comedy. 

The peculiarity of “Matt & Ben” is that the roles of Damon and Affleck are portrayed by women. The actresses did a great job at capturing the two polar attitudes of the dynamic duo. 

“One of the big priorities of my work at PTC is to actively work to encourage a more diverse audience to come through the doors. To that end, I’ve attempted to program work that centers on more diverse and inclusive stories to better reflect both the Bangor community, and the world we live in,” said Johnathan Berry, the artistic director.

Tina Muñoz Pandya played Ben. Her comedic style of acting was good, particularly her way of acting with her body, which brought a whole new image to the character of Ben Affleck. She really managed to capture the hard shelled bro image that Affleck emits. Jen Shepard played Matt. If her goal was to capture how pretentious Damon was, then she accomplished it. We see Damon as this controlling freak who just can’t accept Affleck’s approach to life. It is clear to see that their bromance is going through a rough patch. 

“Adaptation is the highest form of flattery,” Affleck said in the play.

Some notable parts about the production were the impressively quick wardrobe changes. Even if they were playing fake versions of celebrities like Gwenyth Paltrow or J.D. Salinger, the costume changes were done in seconds. Another was the use of lighting to cue a change in the point of view of the scene. The show cuts back and forth from 1st and 3rd person. The actors address the audience when they are telling a story about their childhood, then the lights go down and the scene changes back to where the narrative left off. It had a sitcom feel but was executed well. 

For most of the show, it felt like the audience needed to be very familiar with Affleck and Damon’s personal history. “School Ties,” a movie both actors appeared in, was an ongoing gag. And there are a few references to the love lives of the two men. 

At some points, it did just feel like we were watching an old married couple bickering back and forth, with the occasional “man” tossed into the middle of a sentence, but that’s the satire of the show.  

This Thursday, Oct. 27 is college night. Show your University of Maine ID to get tickets for $15 and 15% off your order at Portland Pie Company. Students who show a valid UMaine ID but do not attend the play can get 10% off at Portland Pie Company. On Sunday, Oct. 30, PTC will put on a production of “Ready, Set, Go!” where, with help from the audience, a cast of four actors will improvise an entire play. 

“Matt & Ben” runs from Oct. 20 to Nov. 6. More information about showtimes and prices can be found at their website.

Correction Oct. 26, 2022: There were changes made to the paragraph referring to college night at Portland Pie Company. They are offering 10% off for students with a UMaine ID and 15% off to UMaine students who attend the play as well.

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