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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Matthew Modine Saves the Alpacas

What kind of a murderous beast am I? &mdash Matthew Modine.
Matthew Modine and Peri Gilpin
Matthew Modine and Peri Gilpin
(Photo: Michael Lamont)
There comes an instant in the play Matthew Modine Saves the Alpacas where the title character &mdash and it really doesn't bear asking how he gets here &mdash has to decide whether to go off and shoot a blockbuster movie or do the noble thing and have his blood drained to save a South American tribe and their imperiled alpacas. Critical decorum prevents me from revealing Modine's choice, but it's fair to say that, bleed or no bleed, Blair Singer's corny and not so funny little celebrity send-up couldn't be more bloodless even if it employed single celled protozoa instead of actors.

The actor playing Matthew Modine is, in fact, Matthew Modine (of Full Metal Jacket, Short Cuts et al). The director is Urinetown Tony winner John Rando. The perpetrator of this wrong headed crowd pleaser is the Geffen Playhouse which seems to be pandering to an audience that devours its Hollywood clichés by the bushel-full.

Zing! go Singer's darts at celebrities, their handlers, egos and causes. Pow! go the cannons aiming at image makers, assistants and the occasional political functionary. This being an endeavor where tongue never leaves cheek, also taking a pie squarely in the face, are South American tribesman despite their occasional penchant for making noble speeches ("We are a simple people. We just want to be left alone").

The premise is that one-time star Modine, now washed up, wants back on the A-list and will perform any task, no matter how Herculean, to get there. Selling his body and soul to über image broker Whimberly North (Peri Gilpin), the pair hatch a plan to rescue the imperiled Chmiborazzi tribe in the Ecuadoran Andes whose alpacas aren't breeding. In fact, they're dying as a series of alpaca puppets and cut outs tumble off the colorful mountains of Beowulf Boritt's set.

Those kooky natives view Modine as their chosen savior, all except the highly skeptical Santos Panchos (Mark Damon Espinoza), who logs a complaint at the United Nations with a goofball French diplomat (French Stewart). The gimmick hinges on the fact that Modine &mdash never exactly an A-lister to begin with &mdash is presenting/playing himself as a callow, egotistical washed-up Tom Cruise. "I taught Daniel Day Lewis his accent for Last of the Mohicans," Modine burbles. "I did significant theater." — to which Whimberly fires back "Now you're just embarrassing yourself.",

It may well be tricky to spoof oneself via an image so purely Hollywood cliché (and so outdated). Modine, with his hand sanitizer and iPod, goes the male diva route with the requisite gusto. A clever scene finds Modine training via jump rope the same way he did in Vision Quest and ultimately duking it out with his conscience (played by Mark Fite). He's got an equally game partner in Gilpin whose steely Whimberly North (the name sounds like a subway stop) is a few monster sized clicks away from her Frasier character, Roz Doyle. The two have a bedroom romp that is good for a few "I can top your ego" laughs.

If Matthew Modine Saves the Alpacas is truly an exercise in which actor can out-goose the audience, the clear victor is French Stewart whose rendition of Whimberly's gay assistant and U.N. agent are so utterly daffy that I'd swear he's making up half his lines. The man is clearly having more fun that any civilized being should have and if they ever decide to make Borat into a musical, Stewart's their man.

Singer's script really isn't insightful enough to be consistently wicked nor are the adventures of Modine, Whimberly, or the Chimborazo's really heading anywhere. Rando, who knows his farcical paces, seems a bit stymied by the play's unevenness. There are, after all, only so many times a Botox joke can land, and only so much a person can do with a yuk about alpaca feces.

"Sometimes in life, you just have to be (crapped) on," says Whimberly. Matthew Modine saves the Alpacas would be one of those times,

Matthew Modine Saves the Alpacas
By Blair Singer
Directed by John Rando
Cast: Regie De Leon (Angel), Mark Damon Espinoza (Santos Panchos),Mark Fite (Matthew Modine's conscience, Shaman, Charlie Rose), Peri Gilpin (Whimberly North), Matthew Modine (Matthew Modine) Edward Padilla (Abraham), French Stewart (Jeffrey, Pierre Perrier du Jouet, Lauren Lovett (Puppeteer), Kevin Noonchester (Puppeteer)
Stage Manager: James T. McDermott
Set Design: Beowulf Boritt
Costume Design: Robert Blackman
Lighting Design: Jeff Croiter
Sound Design: Jon Gottlieb
Running Time: 2 hours with one intermission
Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood, (310) 208-5454,
From Sept. 8 to Oct. 18
Tue-Sat. @ 8pm, Sat. @ 3 pm., Sun @ 2pm and 7pm.
Reviewed by Evan Henerson, based on Sept. 16 performance.
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