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Matthew Modine Saves the Alpacas -- Theater Review

Benjamin Walker
Jason Kempin/Getty Images
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Inspired perhaps by the surrealistic fantasy film "Being John Malkovich," Brian Singer has written a self-consciously campy, two-hour satire on the industry that might entertain Hollywood audiences but fall flat in Peoria.

The story has Modine begging a big-time publicist (Peri Gilpin) to revive his flagging career; at first she isn't interested because the "fuckability factor" isn't there for her. Eventually, she and her assistant (French Stewart at his over-the-top best) come up with an idea, and Modine traipses off to the Peruvian Andes to save a 7,000-year old culture from extinction by saving their alpaca herd from connubial indifference.

There's a lot to like for those whose taste runs to a rapid sitcom pace and a relentless repertoire of humor that runs the gamut from juvenile sex ("Look at the pup tent in my pan!" Modine exclaims during his big sexual conquest scene) to scatological encounters with nature and smoking weed for creativity, spiced up by an embarrassing gaggle of "funny"-accented English for the nominally French- and Spanish-speaking characters.

Some of the humor crosses a boundary into outright bad taste (something about condoms and Afghani women pleasuring themselves) or sheer desperation (Gilpin having had more tucks than a Motel 6 housekeeper). Ultimately, the effect is satire by people who seem clueless that they are reinforcing stereotypes and their own superficiality rather than pillorying them in any real sense.

Not to mention that, generally speaking, when the high point of a play is intercourse between two actors wearing alpaca suits, there usually is work to be done. In this case, the major problem, aside from the sophomoric story and humor, is that the last third of the evening drags along, looking helplessly for a way to continue the moderate level of fun that precedes it before putting it out of its misery.

Director John Rando and his cast seem to have fun putting together this trifle, but they avoid too much discipline in favor of spontaneity. Modine seems to wander in from a day at the beach, and Gilpin, who is more convincing as a sexpot than a Hollywood shark, often stands helplessly by. Stewart is more committed to his accent as a French diplomat stranded in Peru, in which he pays brilliant homage to Peter Sellers.

The sets are imaginatively bright, spacious and pretty, and music is sparingly but effectively used. The Peruvians' costumes suggest an ethnic vision rooted deep in the past century, but the alpacas are cute.

Jason Kempin/Getty Images
Jason Kempin/Getty Images
Jason Kempin/Getty Images
Jason Kempin/Getty Images
Jason Kempin/Getty Images

Venue: Geffen Playhouse, Westwood (Through Oct. 18)
Cast: Matthew Modine, Peri Gilpin, French Stewart, Edward Padilla, Mark Damon Espinoza, Reggie De Leon, Mark Fite
Playwright: Blair Singer
Director: John Rando
Set designer: Beowulf Boritt
Costume designer: Robert Blackman
Lighting designer: Jeff Croiter
Sound designer: Jon Gottlieb
Casting director: Phyllis Schuringa