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Theatre Review (LA): Matthew Modine Saves the Alpacas by Blair Singer

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Matthew Modine has always been one of my favorite less-famous actors. The man has done some amazing movies, starting with the remarkable Birdy, followed by Vision Quest, Full Metal Jacket, Married to The Mob, and Gross Anatomy to name a few. He seems to drop out of sight, well my sight anyway, only to reappear in some other theatrical endeavor. I never knew he had done stage, but apparently he has and has also directed.

He has a movie coming out, Little Fish Big Pond, and so what better time than now to perform in a play in Los Angeles at a prestigious theatre, the Geffen? The play is called Matthew Modine Saves The Alpacas, and – you guessed it – he plays Matthew Modine (though he has an understudy). But this is not the masculine, sensitive, handsome boy next door; rather it's a really shallow, schlubby version of himself, a star in need of a makeover both physically and career-wise. When he first appears on stage he looks like he had totally gone to seed. Rest assured he hasn't.

The story is simple: Matthew needs a makeover and he enlists a hard-assed agent, played by Peri Gilpin of Fraiser fame, to help him get his act together. Part of the act is to find a cause, and they choose the dying alpacas of Mount Chimborazo in the Ecuadorian Andes on whom the natives depend. Unfortunately the natives start to die when they use Matthew's antibacterial hand crème.

Along for the ride is the brilliant French Stewart of Third Rock From The Sun, and of course some natives (Edward Padilla, Mark Fife, Mark Damon Espinoza, and the funny Reggie De Leon). I had a good time, but the script was sorely lacking; it needs another rewrite to get rid of the clunkers, of which there are quite a few.

The biggest problem, though, is the difference in acting styles. Stewart, with all those Justin Tanner crazy shows under his belt, know exactly how to play this sort of broad comedy. Gilpin and Modine, however, are stuck in a semi-realistic style that doesn't serve the piece well. The rest of the cast does just fine, but without those two principal players there is a lot of egg on that stage. This is the sort of material you have to commit to 125% and be willing to make a fool of yourself with. French does make a total fool of himself, much to the audience's delight. The direction by John Rando is fine ,though he should have insisted on cleaning up the text. Blair Singer, the playwright, lands some zingers about Hollywood. Beowulf has designed a suitable cartoonish set. The puppetry by Kevin Noonchester, among others, is adorable, though some might be offended by the puppet sex.

Matthew Modine Saves The Alpacas will play at the Geffen Playhouse until Oct. 18.

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