It’s been a very long time since most of us have seen any live theatre. So when I learned that an outdoor summer theatre was taking place in Smiths Falls this August, I had to have a closer look. Given the limitations of the pandemic, what the organizers have managed to achieve with this new theatre is very impressive.
The main feature on their stage is Matt and Ben—a comedy based on the friendship of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. Apart from that, their August calendar lists a few one-night shows: a comedy night, a Jim Bryson concert, and a drag show that kicks off Pride Week in Smiths Falls.
We went to Matt and Ben on a warm Saturday afternoon. The first thing that struck me was the outstanding choice of venue. The outdoor theatre is tucked behind the Heritage House Museum on the outskirts of Smiths Falls.
The stage was set in front of a barn-like storage shed, with plastic chairs positioned on a slight incline, which afforded the audience good sightlines of the play.
Being behind the museum means that the productions can take advantage of the museum bathrooms, power, and parking. Another major advantage of the venue is the huge park directly across the road right on the Rideau River. Next time we come, we will definitely do an evening picnic beside the water.
I was also impressed with the sound production of the play. It can be difficult to hear what is happening on-stage in large crowds, or over the ambient noise if the venue is outdoors, but Matt and Ben side-stepped these pitfalls.
The actors were mic’ed, allowing their voices to be projected through a decent sound system that made the scene’s dialogue clear for the audience.
That being said, if I had to note one disadvantage with the venue, it would be its proximity to a railway. It is so close that if a train passes through during a performance, the actors have to freeze while the cars move through, and can only resume when they have fully passed. This interruption happened only once during the show we attended, and it was just for a few seconds. I pretended that I’d hit my remote’s pause button.
Summer theatre is usually not terribly serious fare, and this play certainly fits that bill. Matt and Ben imagines that the script for the 1997 movie Good Will Hunting magically drops out of the apartment ceiling onto the floor of roommates Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. Making guest appearances in the play are actress Gwyneth Paltrow and J.D. Salinger, the author of the classic coming-of-age novel Catcher in the Rye. The play was written by Mindy Kaling and Brenda Withers back in 2003, before Kaling’s career had taken off with her performance in the workplace ensemble comedy The Office.
As we watched, my wife leaned over and whispered to me that “It seemed very ‘fringey.’” Her characterization was appropriate. Sure enough, the play was originally written and performed for the New York Fringe Festival.
The story is based on the true story of Affleck and Damon writing the script in a messy apartment together, but beyond its premise the rest of the show’s plot and details are fantasy. While the celebrities gracing the play are the hook, the story is really more about the nature of friendship.
The play was written for two women to take the roles, and Tifanni Kenny and Glenys Marshall play Matt and Ben respectively. There was a nice contrast between their performances. Kenny plays the smart, calm Matt and Marshall the more volatile and emotional Ben. Both turn in very solid performances.
For out-of-towners, the theatre website has a good summary of things-to-do and places to eat in Smiths Falls. I’m already thinking about the picnic in the park at next year’s festival.
Matt and Ben runs until August 29th with afternoon and evening performances. Details are available here.