When a celebrity’s career has gone to pot, there’s nothing like a little humanitarian work to get him or her back on the A-List, or at least that’s what Matthew Modine has decided in Matthew Modine Saves The Alpacas, Blair Singer’s marvelously silly (and entertaining) mockumentary now diverting audiences at the Geffen.


It takes an A-List good sport to poke fun at himself, his image, and his career, and Modine, playing a fictionalized version himself, is just such a good sport.  After being assured by the actor, in the preshow announcements, that “there were alpacas harmed in this production, but they were really old alpacas,” we’re off on an adventure which begins in the Hollywood offices of Whimberly North (Peri Gilpin), the go-to gal when your career has hit a twenty-year slump. The real Modine can hardly complain about his own career (the actor continues to star in films, TV movies and series, and major stage productions), but the scruffy, shoulder-length-haired Matthew we meet at the Geffen is getting desperate, or so he tells Whimberly. Could the beautiful (and thanks to medical science) ever youthful Career Resurrector help him to adopt an African baby, and by the way, “Is Somalia in Africa?”  In case Whimberly has any misgivings, Matthew assures her that his baby will be well taken care of—by a team of illegal Guatemalan nannies.

The Matthew that Whimberly sees before her bears little resemblance to the Matthew Modine of movie fame with his Jeff Spicoli hair, grungy t-shirt, cargo shorts, and flip-flops.  Thus it’s no wonder when Whim tells him the brutal truth, “You’re off the map. Shit, you’re off the globe.  You generate no heat!”  Still, Matthew Modine is not about to take “No!” for an answer, and he’s come to Whim’s office simply brimming with ideas.  “Just get me a charity with a ribbon,” he begs, something like Tourettes, the disorder that makes you sound “like a perpetual David Mamet play.  


Despite Matthew’s pleas, though, Whimberly is not about to put her reputation on the line for someone whose career ended with the 1980s. Most importantly, Matthew Modine lacks the Fuckability Factor, so end of conversation.

Fortunately for Matthew, the gays still love him, and Whimberly’s assistant Jeffrey (French Stewart) is fortuitously one of the gays.  “Don’t give up,” he encourages Matthew, for though Whim’s overly Botoxed face reveals nothing to the average citizen, Jeffrey has learned to read it despite its paralysis, and he’s positive Matthew still stands a chance of persuading her. 

“I think you’re chicken!” Matthew accuses Whimberly, who for some unknown reason can’t see that Matthew Modine is back, and ready to be the biggest star in the universe.  “Take a chance on me,” he entreats her, “and I’ll make you so moist, you turn into a Bundt cake!” 

And what do you know?  Wonder of wonders, Whim is indeed beginning to fall under Matthew’s spell. “I’m going to make you!” she vows, and whips out “The Box,” a gold-plated treasure chest of career-reviving ideas. Sex video? Old. Drug rehab?  Boring. Save the alpacas?  Brilliant!  After all, anyone can save whales, but by saving the Chimborazzi Alpacas now on the verge of extinction in the Ecuadorian Andes, Matthew can save an entire civilization


So off they go to exotic Ecuador, where a trio of Chimborazzi Indians (Regie De Leon, Mark Damon Espinoza, and Edward Padilla) are in a tizzy. There are only three male alpacas left, and none of them want to mate with Daisy, the lone female.  Unless the Prodigal Son (aka “The Man With Three First Names”) returns to the village, their tribe, like the alpacas, faces certain death.  Fortunately, like manna from heaven, a DHL message arrives.  “Matthew Modine is coming to save the alpacas!” Matthew! Moe! Dean!  Three fist names! The prodigal son must be on the way!

And this is just the beginning of an evening of rollicking good fun. There’s a fantasy sequence, alpaca (and human) sex, references to Brad and Julia, ample use of hand sanitizer, a gay vs. Andean Indian fight (choreographed by Steve Rankin), and a death scene to rival Bette Davis’s in Dark Victory. True, not every joke in Singer’s script hits the mark, and even at 100 minutes, some sequences go on a tad too long.  Nonetheless, under John Rando’s effervescent direction, Matthew Modine Saves The Alpacas provides laughs galore, a chance to see Modine, Gilpin, and Stewart live-and-in-person, and (particularly for a Westwood audience) a frequently spot-on satire on today’s Hollywood.

Besides being a good sport about his name and image, Modine is a terrific comic actor, every bit as charismatic as he was starring in Full Metal Jacket and Vision Quest, proving here without a doubt that 50 is the new 35.  Nobody plays sexy/funny better than Gilpin, as she proved in her eleven seasons on Frasier, and as Whimberly, she’s got a role which allows her to be both. Stewart’s one-of-a-kindness was made amply clear during his six years on 3rd Rock from the Sun, and L.A. theater audiences know him well as a member of Justin Tanner’s ensemble of zanies.  Here he scores in two roles, as the fabulous Jeffrey and as U.N. bigwig Pierre du Perrier Jouet (though his French accent is so thick that quite a few laughs are lost).

In the role of Matthew Modine’s look-alike/dress-alike conscience, Matthew understudy Mark Fite proves he could easily go on for the star if need be. He also appears hilariously as an Andean shaman (who’s also the world’s oldest living human being) and as the Charlie Rose. De Leon, Espinoza, and Padilla make for a wonderfully goofy trio of Andes Indians, a sort of South American Three Stooges. Kevin Noonchester completes the cast … as an alpaca. (When was the last time you saw life-size alpacas on an L.A. theater stage?)


As always, the Geffen has assembled a Broadway-caliber design team for Matthew Modine Saves The Alpacas.  Beowulf Boritt’s fanciful set design transports us from Beverly Hills to the Andes as do Robert Blackburn’s costumes, everything from Rodeo Drive chic to Andes native wear. High marks too to Jeff Croiter’s lighting and Jon Gottlieb’s sound design, especially a particularly fun use of Sade’s “Smooth Operator” and Starland Vocal Band’s “Afternoon Delight.”

It’s not every day you get to see Matthew Modine save alpacas, let alone see him doing it live on stage at the Geffen in a show as wacky and winning as Matthew Modine Saves The Alpacas.  True, it’s not Shakespeare or Ibsen, but its an alpaca herd-ful of fun.

Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood.

–Steven Stanley
September 17, 2009
                                                                   Photos: Michael Lamont

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