Toronto’s Fancy Bits Theatre takes on Matt Damon and Ben Affleck in Matt & Ben
’90s tunes pervade the boozy atmosphere as you enter the Imperial Pub Backspace for Fancy Bits Theatre’s Matt & Ben (originally by Mindy Kaling & Brenda Withers), with drink in hand if you so choose. On stage, the main attraction is a soiled sofa with snacks littering the cardboard furniture and headshots covering the walls in hilariously narcissistic fashion. This is Ben Affleck’s apartment in the early ’90s, and we are about to witness a miracle.
The play starts out a bit jarringly, moving from the flashback-to-the-’90s soundtrack that greets you to Beyonce’s “If I Were A Boy” from 2008. The intent is clear–both Eva Barrie and Kelci Stephenson, the two actors playing Ben and Matt respectively, are transforming themselves into men–but it feels a bit out of place.
Still, this is a minor complaint in what is otherwise a complete blast of a show: weird and creative and hilarious, all in one fast-paced hour of energy and great comedic acting.
Matt & Ben works as a kind of magic realist reimagining of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck’s humble origins. Here, Matt (Stephenson) is an excessively intellectual perfectionist while Affleck (Barrie) is a kind of idiot savant with manic creative energy. As they struggle with their disparate goals and dreams, most of which centre around attempting to adapt J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, their friendship is tested when the script for Good Will Hunting drops from the ceiling with their names on the front page.
What follows is a hilarious trip through the strange dynamic of Matt and Ben’s friendship as they try to figure out what to do with the script. It’s the kind of premise that only really works if the two actors involved have good chemistry, and thankfully you totally buy Barrie and Stephenson as lifelong pals whose love for each other is complicated by their extreme differences.
Stephenson’s Matt Damon is twitchy and tiny, often playing the straight man but equally capable of getting in on the antics when needed. Meanwhile, Barrie’s Ben is equal parts bro and puppy, making him a likeable idiot who nonetheless has some kind of strange talent to offer, and a good heart beneath it all. Neither performance resorts to caricature, and while the premise is completely goofball, there is a love and affection between Matt and Ben that feels genuine and endearing.
It all speeds by in an hour, aided by tight direction and writing that never goes too long without a laugh. My favourite scenes included an impromptu reading of the Good Will Hunting script, with Affleck attempting to do an “English” accent, and a flashback scene where Matt plays Simon and Garfunkel on the ukulele while Ben goes wild on the tambourine.
Further, the Imperial Pub Backspace is a great venue for a show like this, where you can wander in with a drink and feel free to laugh as loudly as you’d like.
This is the sort of show that works because of the strength of its actors, and Stephenson and Barrie are simply a riot to watch together. Their chemistry is excellent and their comic timing completely on-point. They’ve got a good script at their disposal with a simple but engaging premise that balances heart with an appreciation for the absurd. It’s a strange mix of elements, but it all congeals into a terribly fun show that shouldn’t leave anyone disappointed.
- Matt & Ben is playing at the Imperial Pub Backspace (54 Dundas St. E) until April 9th.
- Only three shows remain in this short run, so don’t drag your feet!
- All shows begin at 8pm.
- Ticket prices are $15 general admission, and can be purchased online or at the door.
- If you so desire, you can purchase a drink before the show at the pub and take it into the Backspace with you for the performance.
Photo of Eva Barrie and Kelci Stephenson provided by the company.