Lights shine on center stage where two men sit on a worn red couch, one of whom is wearing a Boston Red Sox baseball cap, a navy blue tracksuit, a shirt that reads upside down “THIS IS MY KEGSTAND SHIRT,” and gray sneakers while the other is dressed in a blue and white striped button-down shirt, khakis, and brown boots. They sit in what appears to be the main room of an apartment with an office desk on stage left, a coffee table center stage, and a side table topped with scattered junk food.
These two “men” are famous actors Matt Damon (Claudia Crook PO ’14) and Ben Affleck (Eliza Pennell PO ’14), who are debating what constitutes stealing versus simple adaptation.
“Adaptation is the highest form of flattery,” Affleck argues to his best friend Damon, who replies, “Don’t you mean imitation?”
Whether you want to call it an adaptation or an imitation, writers Mindy Kaling and Brenda Winters of the fast-paced satirical comedy Matt & Ben would be pleased with the Pomona College Bottom Line Theatre (BLT) production of the hysterically poignant play. BLT director Lauren Moon PO ’14 put on three performances of Matt & Ben this past weekend at Pomona’s Seaver Theater.
Crook and Pennell kept the audience engaged and amused throughout the play as they perfectly portrayed the young Damon and Affleck writing the script for Good Will Hunting—or in this case, having it literally fall from the ceiling right into their laps. The two debate whether to face the ethical implications involved in using this mysterious, effortlessly-written script as their own work, or if they should just continue to tediously take the text from J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. The events that unfold had the entire audience laughing and cheering for more.
Crook impeccably depicted Damon’s hardworking and serious but rather insecure demeanor. She stood tall to assert Damon as a large presence, despite his actual short height, while constantly shifting back and forth, rarely standing still, to evoke his various states of indecision about what to do next: stick to his collaborative dream with Affleck of making a guaranteed hit of a movie, or pursue a dream of his own of starring as a main character in a Sam Shepard-directed play. Crook spoke articulately and condescendingly to Pennell’s Affleck, the lovable, somewhat overshadowing best friend. With eye rolls and a constant focus on the problem at hand, Crook effectively communicated where Damon was coming from, and how even the people we hold closest can drive us crazy to the point that we second-guess our relationship with them.
Pennell flawlessly captured Affleck’s rowdy, facetious yet ultimately compassionate persona. Pennell moved animatedly across the stage to convey Affleck’s tough-guy confidence, all the while poking fun at Damon, whom Affleck truly envies for his determined work ethic. She mimicked Affleck’s obnoxious habits: shouting, chewing unnecessarily loudly, and throwing both chips and punches, among others. While Crook’s frustrated Damon was visibly aggravated with Pennell’s in-your-face Affleck, all friends fight like these two. True friends do not hold unnecessary grudges, and these two can’t stay mad each other for too long. Crook and Pennell confirmed the common cliché that opposites do attract.
Crook and Pennell established the genuine, relatable relationship that Damon and Affleck share not only through well-deployed dialogue, but physical believability as well.
“To play a man is really hard—they were really honest,” Sneha Bathina PZ ’15 said.
One of several highlights in the show, which embodied the relationship between Damon and Affleck and showcased the talent of Crook and Pennell, was a flashback to a senior-year talent show in which Damon and Affleck perform a duet of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” Crook proved that she can sing, play guitar, and act all at once with her beautiful rendition of the classic song, while Pennell proved to be an over-the-top comedian in all the right ways as she flailed the tambourine and sang obnoxiously. Inspired by the performance, the audience joined along, cheering, laughing, and rooting throughout the ridiculous concert.
Crook and Pennell succeeded in winning over the audience together, working off of each other while distinguishing themselves as individual actors.
“I thought the play was absolutely brilliant. The writing is genius. They did such a good job—the acting, the directing—everything was so spot on,” Bathina said. “Especially because they played so many different characters—the change was so drastic. They were wonderful. They were so natural-looking. It’s so difficult to get that kind of acting across.”
Stern was similarly impressed by the slapstick humor and honest acting.
“The acting was so slapstick-y, really over the top, which made it really funny—and really sketch comedy-like and it also got really real sometimes, too. It was grounded in a very honest place as well, which made it so believable,” Marguerite Stern PZ ’14 said.
“They were so natural, like really good actors,” she added. “It made it comfortable to watch. They were having so much fun—that’s what good performing is and that’s why theater is great. That kind of stuff is really hard to pull off, and you really have to commit. They really committed.”
Alec Long PO ’17 also attested to the quality of BLT’s production.
“I think it was well-directed. I think the actors played the physical parts extremely well; I was really impressed by that. Even though it wasn’t continuous in terms of time or reality, I think that held together really well,” Long said. “I’m really impressed with how they pulled that off. Overall, I loved it. I’m surprised that BLT doesn’t get more recognition for the work they do because it’s really good.”