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The Dartmouth
April 14, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Students perform ‘Matt and Ben’ from Mindy Kaling ’01 and Brenda Withers ’00

Lily Easter ’25 directed “Matt and Ben” in the play’s first run at Dartmouth since Mindy Kaling ’01 and Brenda Withers ’00 wrote the story in 2001.

mattandben.jpg
Courtesy of Arizbeth Rojas

In 2001, Mindy Kaling ’01 and Brenda Withers ’00 wrote “Matt and Ben,” an absurdist retelling of how Matt Damon and Ben Affleck wrote their Oscar-winning film “Good Will Hunting.” The play debuted in 2002 at the New York International Fringe Festival, winning the “Best in Fringe” award and becoming Kaling and Withers’s first theatrical hit. On March 2, Lily Easter ’25 and Arizbeth Rojas ’25 performed “Matt and Ben” at Dartmouth for the first time since its inception on campus. 

Easter, who directed and starred in the production as Affleck, read the play for the first time during the spring of her freshman year. Later on in her Dartmouth career, Easter took a directing class, and working with the script became a passion project.  

“You can get so involved in the details when you’re doing a wider scale production,” Easter said. “So, I really liked that this was an intimate cast but not necessarily a small undertaking. I also couldn’t believe no one at Dartmouth had done it before.”

Kaling and Withers were best friends when they wrote “Matt and Ben.” In an interview with Sam Jones in 2019, Kaling said the two would “try to make each other laugh” during the writing process. The play pokes fun at the amateur performers Affleck and Damon getting a gift from the creative gods: the script to the 1997 film, “Good Will Hunting.” The script falls out of the sky, and the two best friends have to decide what to do with the story. 

“One of the main jokes of the play is that Ben and Matt could’ve never written the movie,” Easter explained. “That’s actually been one of the challenges of the play — [the] audience thinks of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck as these big movie stars with these huge careers and these prestigious awards, [but] in the script they’re just two frat boys.” 

Like Kaling and Withers, Easter and Rojas are good friends. While Easter plays Affleck, Rojas plays the role of Damon. According to Easter, the two hosted a radio show together their sophomore year, where they developed a natural banter. 

“I just really respect [Rojas] as an intellectual and always knew I wanted to do this project with her,” Easter said. “We speak the same language. I know her very well and can level with her. It’s been a very fun and collaborative process.” 

Rojas and Easter’s close dynamic was apparent throughout the play. In the first 15 minutes of the show, Rojas accidentally knocked over a bottle of Diet Coke, and Easter used the envelope that held the “Good Will Hunting” script to dry off the stage. The two laughed through the mishap, ad-libbing the lines, “I can’t believe you did this, Matt,” and, “Your apartment was already messy, Ben.” 

Luke Gerdeman ’27, the lighting designer of the play, also noted the “close and goofy dynamic” of Easter and Rojas. 

“When we were going through tech rehearsals, you could really see the two are great friends,” Gerdeman said. “In between scenes, they’d be laughing. They are very smart and capable people who are telling a story about two smart and cool creatives.” 

The theater department’s interim production manager, Bethany Padron, said she read the play for the first time when Easter proposed it as a “little student production slot.” A little student production slot is an opportunity for students to perform a play with the support of the theater department.

“It has been entirely student-driven,” Padron said. “They run their own rehearsals, get all their props and quite literally run the show. I’m really proud of [Rojas] and [Easter] because they’re off-book and super organized.” 

Easter and Rojas regularly interacted with a prop table full of chips, diet coke, pizza, cupcakes and donuts throughout the 50-minute duration of the play. Easter chugged an apple juice before the two had a serious conversation about how to move forward with the “Good Will Hunting.” Easter also wore a backward baseball cap and spilled pudding on her collared shirt.

“It’s been really fun to play just a really silly, goofy and loose kind of character,” Easter said. “Not that your regular female characters don’t have a lot of depth, but it’s just been so fun playing these really out-there and absurd characters. The play works because it is two female characters playing the personas of these successful men.”

For Easter, “Matt and Ben” is ultimately about friendship. The play recounts many moments from Damon and Affleck’s respective childhoods, particularly when Damon used to force Affleck to make eye contact during scene rehearsal for their drama class. Easter as Affleck addresses the audience, saying, “Matt is still the only person I can stare in the eye.” 

The play ends with the Oscar announcement of “Good Will Hunting” winning the award for “Best Screenplay.” Easter and Rojas took center stage, pudding still on Easter’s collared shirt and Rojas’s button-down half-tucked in her khakis. 

“There’s a scene in the play where Matt and Ben perform at their high school talent show,” Easter said. “They sing ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ by Simon and Garfunkel. Matt Damon in the play says, ‘I know that I wanted to do this song with Ben because he’s my best friend.’ The song and the whole play [are] about that. I get to sing the song with one of my best friends, as we’re both playing best friends.” 

Rojas is a news writer and news managing editor for The Dartmouth.