A breezy goofiness buoys the best moments of Flying V’s comic “Matt & Ben.” Take, for instance, the point early on when Ben (Katie Jeffries) flings a pretzel at his best friend, Matt (Tia Shearer). The pals are in Ben’s Boston-area apartment, contemplating a screenplay that has, improbably, fallen from the sky. The focused Matt reads the manuscript without looking up. But Ben is a restless guy with a puerile sense of humor. Perching on the stove, he lobs a pretzel at his intent chum, a mischievous and dopey smile creeping over his face.
Jeffries and Shearer make engaging foils in this production of “Matt & Ben,” directed by Matt Bassett from a script by Mindy Kaling and Brenda Withers. As they try out oafish-bro mannerisms, and channel their characters’ now-testy, now-heartfelt friendship, the actresses get significant mileage from incongruity.
Written to be performed by two actresses (the playwrights originated the title roles), “Matt & Ben” purports to depict the relationship between Matt Damon and Ben Affleck in 1995, when the two were struggling actors. The play’s absurdist premise has the “Good Will Hunting” screenplay — for which Damon and Affleck, in real life, won an Oscar — dropping from the sky, flummoxing the buddies.
Kaling (who went on to “The Office” and “The Mindy Project”) and Withers depict Ben as a dimwit and Matt as a long-suffering overachiever. Those traits are cheerfully channeled here by Jeffries (deploying a doltish glare) and Shearer (radiating lumbering earnestness). Bolstering the characterizations is the bachelor-pad set by Joseph B. Musumeci Jr. (Andrea “Dre” Moore designed the drolly appropriate props.)
Still, there has been a lot of water under the bridge since the early airings of “Matt & Ben” at the 2002 New York International Fringe Festival and, starting in 2003, off-Broadway. That was the era of Affleck’s tabloid-worthy romance with Jennifer Lopez, his co-star in the much-panned movie “Gigli.” Now that both Damon and Affleck have more substantial résumés — and Affleck, in particular, has redeemed some career missteps by directing “Argo” — the satire of celebrity in “Matt & Ben” feels less barbed. If you don’t remember that Affleck once dated Gwyneth Paltrow (who does?), the cameo by the latter (played by Jeffries) in this spoof feels a tad random.
The brief appearance by an eccentric J.D. Salinger (Shearer), on the other hand, is amusingly zany. Showing up in Ben’s apartment, the “Catcher in the Rye” author requests pudding. Go figure.
Matt & Ben, by Mindy Kaling and Brenda Withers; directed by Matt Bassett; assistant director, Kelsey Hall; sound design, Neil McFadden; costumes, Kat Fleshman; lighting, Kristin A. Thompson; fight director, Jonathan Ezra Rubin. One hour. Tickets: $20-$30. Through June 26 at the Writer’s Center, 4508 Walsh St., Bethesda. Visit flyingvtheatre.com.