New theatre company makes a splash with rollicking comedy

In a crummy Massachusetts apartment, in 1995, fictionalised versions of aspiring actors Matt Damon and Ben Affleck live on junk food and dreams.

As they bash away at an unauthorised screen adaptation of The Catcher in the Rye, a mysterious package appears, containing a fully formed script of Good Will Hunting. Could this be the break they are hoping for?

So begins Matt & Ben, directed by Ryan Hartigan and the first production of new theatre company Dollhouse.

The script, by Mindy Kaling and Brenda Withers, involves great quantities of inspired horseplay and lashings of intentional schmaltz and theatrical in-jokes.

Matt (Jordan Wichman) is the more calculatedly ambitious of the two, whereas irresponsible Ben (Nicole Jenkins) relies on instinct and charm. Both have the appealing combination of assurance and naivety that often characterises young actors.

When a scenario occurs to them they act it out, improvising shamelessly.

One fantasy sequence involves Ben in a blonde wig impersonating Gwyneth Paltrow; another has Matt pretending to be J.D. Salinger denying them the rights to The Catcher in the Rye.

Matt & Ben’s performance rights stipulate that both roles must be played by women, and this adds to the sense of idealisation, as opposed to realism. Wichman and Jenkins perform admirably. Occasionally a few words are indistinct, but the production’s strength is its theatrical physicality: the two bounce around, hide, reappear and, convincingly, fight.

Fast-moving and always funny, the play was received with wild enthusiasm by Thursday night’s audience.

Dollhouse seems set to establish itself as the New Athenaeum’s resident company, and promise to be a vibrant addition to the Dunedin theatre scene.

 

Matt & Ben

New Athenaeum Theatre

Thursday, May 26

 

Review by Barbara Frame

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