Matthew Modine in Matthew Modine Saves the Alpacas – theater
MATTHEW MODINE, SAVE THYSELF
by Harvey Perr
published September 18, 2009
Matthew Modine Saves the Alpacas
now playing in Los Angeles at the Geffen Playhouse
through October 18
I had a lot more respect for Matthew Modine before I saw Matthew Modine Saves
the Alpacas. What is Matthew Modine Saves the Alpacas? Well, it’s (presumably) a play about a fictitious actor named Matthew Modine who is trying to resurrect
his career, and the main character is played by the real actor whose name is Matthew Modine, who would seem to be in desperate need of a
resuscitation of his own career if he is to be judged for allowing himself to appear in such a total waste of his and our time. How many
other conundrums would we find as we peel away the thin layers of skin clinging to the onion?
Well, on the basis that there are no bad reviews, just as long as your name is mentioned and spelled correctly, the
opening paragraph of this review mentions Mr. Modine six times. There will be no way to avoid mentioning his name many more times if one is
to take the time to review a play that couldn’t possibly have been produced under any of the normal processes a play goes through these
days in order to receive any production, let alone a full-scale production for a subscription audience at the Geffen Playhouse. How,
indeed, one wonders, did this come to pass?
At its tattered heart, there is a kernel of satiric gold lurking; the idea of actors doing charitable acts: going
around the world and finding the poor and needy and then taking away their children by adopting them and raising them in places like
Hollywood where they will be protected from poverty and need while their adoptive parents make more and more money as much for their
conceivable benevolence as for their talent. But it remains a kernel, one that gets lost very easily and very quickly in the muck that this
play wallows in.
The plot, such as it is, has Modine, under the wing of a heartless but voluptuous
publicist (Peri Gilpin) and her gay amanuensis (French Stewart), going to the Ecuadorian Andes to save the doomed Chimborazo alpacas from
extinction, an act which somehow forces him to face his real moral obligations. It also enables him to fall in love, or at least sexually
consummate his growing libidinous desire, with the voluptuous publicist. (You didn’t think he’d be interested in the gay amanuensis, did
There is a sub-plot that includes the three Ecuadorians who watch after the alpacas (whose make-up, costumes, and
exotic accents are straight out of the old Hope-Crosby Road movies) and a Frenchman from the
United Nations that gives the play heft but is absent from shading. All ends happily, except for one thing. I shouldn’t give it away but it
is fair to say that it involves the publicist who, in a reverse take on a similar romance in Lost
Horizon, gets older and older as she is more and more removed from Hollywood, because she is more and more removed from the cosmetic
surgery which keeps her so voluptuous and so youthful.
I should mention here that an interesting thing happened in the theater on the evening I attended: a woman – let us
kindly say – of a certain age, who had obviously had some major work done on her own face, laughed hysterically as the publicist went into
her dying throes. The jokes, and there are one or two, can be appreciated most fully by an audience of Hollywood insiders who should have
got the joke by now anyway, since Jeremy Piven’s Ari Gold can do and has already done in a split second what takes a full two hours
The actors are game. Admittedly, Modine has a good deal of natural charm. And French
Stewart, at least, in gesture and vocal acuity, makes the gay assistant a deliciously comic creation, but, as the Frenchman from the U.N.,
French, you will pardon me “ze petit blague,” is not very good at French, and his physicality
is not so far from the gay character.
Beowulf Boritt, whose past work proves that he knows better, has designed some pretty ugly sets. His whimsical
representation of the Ecuadoran Andes is the only bright spot. And the director, John Rando, who also knows a thing or two about comedy,
keeps things moving, but movement, in this case, does not provide comedy. That should have been provided by the playwright, one Blair
Singer, who, on the basis of this play, shows almost no talent, but who has won the Edgerton Prize for it. What, you might ask, is the
Edgerton Prize? It is given to plays that need money for more rehearsal time. Depending on how you look at it, Matthew Modine Saves the Alpacas has had either too much or not enough.
harveyperr @ stageandcinema.com