Good Will … as if

“I think anybody who’s in the public light deserves to be made a parody of at one time or another,” opines Jason Williams, director of Plaeides Productions’ latest show, Matt & Ben.

It’s the play’s namesakes — A-list actors Matt Damon and his trusty sidekick, Ben Affleck — who are the butt of the joke here.

“That’s art,” Williams continues, without a trace of pity for Hollywood’s golden duo. “If you can’t laugh at it, you’re gonna have trouble.”

Slash and burn

Here’s the premise: The pre-J.Lo, pre-Project Greenlight, pre-fame pair are hanging out in Ben’s apartment working on creating their first screenplay. It’s not, by the way, their collaborative script Good Will Hunting, the real-life catapult to their shared stardom. Nope, they’re trying to adapt JD Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye for cinema — not a feat any authentic literature buffs would attempt.

“Anyone who knows anything about JD Salinger knows [adapting his book] is a dumb idea because Salinger won’t give out rights to anything,” explains Erin Socha, who plays Matt. “Plus, [Catcher] is really juvenile and angsty.”

Making Damon — and especially Affleck — look like idiots is a major point of the play. “The authors get considerable mileage out of exploiting the differences between the boys, almost to the point of contempt. While Damon is portrayed as a serious-minded, khaki-clad artiste, Affleck comes off as a semi-illiterate boob who subsists on a diet of Kix and Gatorade,” reported, prior to the show’s opening at the 2002 New York International Fringe Festival.

Where, by the way, it won best over-all production.

But here’s the thing: Matt & Ben, written by former Dartmouth classmates Brenda Withers and Mindy Kaling (both twenty-somethings, like Affleck and Damon were when they penned Good Will), isn’t striving to win an Oscar and a date with a tabloid-worthy starlet. Instead, the farce, originally starring its two female creators (like Good Will starred Affleck and Damon), is more a brilliant use of slash fan-fiction.

Slash started in the 1970s, when fans of Star Trek started rewriting the popular scenes, turning drama into sexual tension, usually between two male personas. As in Kirk and Spock. The “slash” comes from the homoerotic pairings of heroes: Batman/Robin, Starsky/Hutch, Matt/Ben.

As in (suggests one blogger): “One day, Affleck will come to his senses and dump J.Lo’s round ass so that he can freak Damon’s instead.”

Hey, it worked for Saturday Night Live

But Withers’ and Kaling’s play goes beyond smut, embarking on the larger issue of how on earth two unknowns from Middle America craft a script and suddenly find themselves raking in millions and strolling down red carpets.

“There’s a lot of speculation [about their abrupt fame],” reveals Lara Kole, who plays Ben. (Yep, in keeping with tradition, two women parody the male characters.) “I definitely think it’s over-the-top. I think it’s hilarious. But I don’t think it’s meant to be taken seriously.”

“Everyone who’s made some big movies — and the kind of movies they’ve made — sets themselves up,” insists the slightly less forgiving Socha. “It’s sort of like making fun of politics.”

The New York Times went so far as to say: “It’s both refreshing and absolutely delightful to hear insults delivered to real people — especially those people who have been wildly over-praised and overpaid — without apology. Matt & Ben names names … There’s genuine venom here: ‘David Schwimmer is a terrible actor with one expression, and he looks like a mushroom.'”

Socha swiftly amends that the script isn’t saying, point blank, “Ben Affleck is a horrible actor.” (Um, Gigli? Daredevil?) Nope, it’s Matt Damon — in the script — saying that to his friend.

And besides, Affleck once visited Asheville’s Cafe on the Square with a snooty French companion who allegedly corrected their server’s pronunciation. “Ben was loud and drew attention to himself and then left the restaurant to go party down the road at a pizza pub,” the Asheville Citizen-Times reported in an October 2002 article.

Socha’s verdict? “If that’s the kind of guy he is, then screw him.”

Risky business

Both Socha and Kole are fairly new to the local theater scene — Socha made her last stage appearance in Plaeides’ Seven Deadly Dwarves, and Kole, a recent Eastern Carolina University grad, performed in Warren Wilson Theatre’s Cabaret. Still, they were up to the challenge of a two-woman show, barreling through rehearsals in a mere month.

Kole calls Plaeides a risk-taker among local theater groups, venturing that the small company “completely encompasses the spirit of Asheville.”

Socha chose to work with Plaeides for similar reasons, but signed on for Matt & Ben simply because “Asheville in January is kind of boring, and with Vincent’s [Ear] closed, I had nothing to do.”

So, really, why not get a few laughs at the expense of celebrities? After all, it’s not like they can’t make their opinions known. When asked about the play bearing his name, Affleck told, “I haven’t taken it in. Maybe what they’re doing is great … I just don’t want to spend my free time focusing on stuff in the media about me. … I’m not going to go sit at some play and it’s about me. It seems too deeply weird a thing to do.”

But then — and I’m giving the guy some credit here — he did show a sense of humor when asked his opinion of celebrity weddings. “I’m willing to make a statement about this marriage right now,” Affleck quipped. “This is legal now, in Massachusetts, and Matt and I have set a date. We marry on New Year’s Day in Provincetown.”

He is, no doubt, laughing all the way to the bank.

Check out Matt & Ben at Be Be Theatre (20 Commerce St.). The show runs at 8 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 3 through Saturday, Feb. 5 and Thursday, Feb. 10 through Saturday, Feb. 12. $10. 254-2621.

About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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