According to Blowfish Theatre, “theatre is life.” Composed of eight McGill students from various faculties, the new theatre company hit the ground running with comedy Matt & Ben which ran from September 29 to October 1 at Players’ Theatre. Originally written by celebrity friends Mindy Kaling and Brenda Withers, the play parodies two struggling young actors from Boston that receive a kind of divine intervention. The screenplay was initially inspired by the 1997 drama, Good Will Hunting, written by childhood friends Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. Starring Shannon Snow as Matt and Jo Murray as Ben, Blowfish Theatre’s production shows how the academy award winning film literally falls into the laps of two unsuspecting friends in a hilarious, subversive comedy.
The play follows Matt Damon and Ben Affleck as they try to decipher what their award means. Is it a gateway to sin? Their ticket to stardom? Have they been cursed? At this point in their careers, Matt and Ben are trying to get the rights for a screenplay of Catcher in the Rye and are auditioning for small time roles with no “real” responsibilities. Matt is an over-cautious, sensitive type, and Ben is his loud, raunchy, and ridiculously funny best friend. From the moment Snow and Murray danced onto the stage, the audience knew that the performance would be anything but half-assed.
Shannon Snow’s humour was on point, playing Matt as a lovable, quirky, and terribly awkward character who just wanted to break free from his irresponsible other-half. On the other hand, Jo Murray was the rowdy Ben Affleck. Though their characters were intensely dramatized, they came out refreshingly funny. Everything from crossdressing quips to pop culture references came off flawlessly as the actors showed the struggles of two guys just trying to get their break. Favourite moments included Matt and Ben’s talent show flashback performance of “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” and the cameos made by Gwyneth Paltrow and J.D. Salinger.
At intermission, the audience was kindly asked to leave the theatre, only to return to Matt and Ben reinvented in black leather, studs, heels, corset tops (“titty-cages”), and metallic capes, created by costume designer, Erinn Farmer. They were dressed for the first read-through of Good Will Hunting, and it was better than anything the audience could have imagined. There was nothing restrained or understated about this play and people loved it.
Everything from crossdressing quips to pop culture references came off flawlessly as the actors showed the struggles of two guys just trying to get their break.
This production, in particular, experiments with characterization that goes beyond the traditional idea of masculine and feminine. Snow, whose acting career “thus far has her typecasted in lesbian, dystopic adaptations of Shakespeare” and who was excited to “break out of this role to play the Straight Male,” and Murray, whose theatre credits includes The Vagina Monologues, make a fantastic pair in a show that redefines gender stereotypes and showcases women’s comedy. Through creative costume changes and sexual humour, the characters of Matt and Ben become more than any one kind of stereotyped, heteronormative comedic role.
The Daily spoke to Blowfish Theatre about the company and the creative process behind Matt & Ben.
The McGill Daily (MD): What made you chose Matt & Ben as the opening production for Blowfish Theatre?
Blowfish Theatre (BT): Well, actually, Blowfish Theatre was born from us wanting to do Matt & Ben! [This play] was the collaborative brainchild of a bunch of us that felt that [it] was a perfect clash of popular culture and high culture. We jokingly named this “the renegade project” before Blowfish was created because we couldn’t find a pre-existing organization on campus that was willing or able to partner on Matt & Ben, so we said fuck it – we’ll do it ourselves!
MD: Your version of Matt & Ben was much more rowdy and wild than original clips of the Mindy Kaling’s and Brenda Withers’ production (particularly costumes, the rock band etc.). What made you take this direction with the play?
BT: With the greatest respect to Mindy and Brenda, we felt that approaching the play realistically lacked dimension. We are lucky to be able to see some clips of the original play […] Our own version [is] grounded in the original version [though it has] blown past our conceptions of space and time and [become] something wacky. For the first six weeks of rehearsal, Anni [Choudhury, the Director] didn’t even touch the script, instead choosing to develop the actors’ respective clown personalities. That says a lot about our approach; the band, the costumes, the staging and props, all complement the absurdity of clown.
Through creative costume changes and sexual humour, the characters of Matt and Ben become more than any one kind of stereotyped, heteronormative comedic role.
MD: This play does amazing things with women playing male characters. How does this play, for you, make an impact in terms of its innovative and creative character representation?
BT: We have enough performed masculinity [by men] in our culture and we don’t need anymore of that. Mindy and Brenda threw themselves on stage dressed in men’s clothes, but made no attempt to change their voices, bind their chests […] in the original Matt & Ben. That is what attracted us to the play – two chicks pretending to be dudes. And not just any dudes, but the golden boys of Hollywood. It’s subversive in its subtlety. And it’s hilarious seeing the caricatures of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck super-imposed on women.
MD: Is there anything you’d like to add about the play that made it a memorable experience to be a part of?
BT: Having the opportunity to work with such creative people really made this experience memorable. Everyone on the team helped create this crazy explosive dynamic play. We had students from all backgrounds: from music to law to mathematics. We are extremely thankful to our diverse cast and crew for their positive energy, imagination, and sparkle.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.