French Stewart, Peri Gilpin, and Matthew Modine
in Matthew Modine Saves the Alpacas
(© Michael Lamont)
French Stewart, Peri Gilpin, and Matthew Modine
in Matthew Modine Saves the Alpacas
(© Michael Lamont)
Life used to be good for Matthew Modine. Big name directors wanted him, high-profile press courted him, and the limelight shone brightly upon him. But then his skyrocketing career crashed back down to the dirty mucky earth, especially after he traded the glittery fame of celebrity-stocked movies for the gritty moralism of independent films and "significant" theater. Or so goes the premise of Blair Singer's hilarious and zinger-laden satire of Hollywood celebrity, Matthew Modine Saves the Alpacas, which is receiving its world premiere at the Geffen Playhouse in a production directed with over-the-top glee by Tony Award winner John Rando.

As Singer tells it, Modine (played by the real Matthew Modine) needs a "Cause" -- something important and unrepresented -- to demonstrate his compassion for the downtrodden while shining a spotlight on them and, more importantly, himself. So with the help of high-powered publicist Whimberly North (Peri Gilpin) and her swishy, savvy assistant, Jeffrey (French Stewart), he sets out to save the endangered Chimborazzi Alpacas that live high in the mountains of Ecuador. Naturally, when Modine brings the trappings of modern Western civilization to the village of an indigenous culture that has existed for 284 generations, ridiculous and unforeseen complications ensue, and life will never be the same for any of them.

It's hard to tell who -- or what -- steals the show more. Singer's script is rife with insider industry jokes, and Rando clearly delights in exploiting every sarcastic, spoofy word of it. As for the cast, Stewart is completely in his comic element as he flips between the dual roles of Whimberly's "on it!" assistant and clumsy United Nations Ambassador Pierre du Pierre Jouet. For Gilpin, the role of the sexy, wisecracking, youth-obsessed publicist with the short temper and spicy mouth is not far removed from her famous Frasier character Roz Doyle, but it's a type she wears extremely well (much like that black leather skirt costume designer Robert Blackman uses to so perfectly introduce her).

Modine has "good sport" written all over him for playing such a broad strokes version of himself with such aplomb and generous humor. A particularly funny sequence has him literally fighting his own conscience, with Mark Fite offering a remarkably good Modine double. The busy Fite also deftly portrays radio talk show host Charlie Rose, a Chimborazzi shaman, and, along with Kevin Noonchester and Lauren Lovett, gets down and dirty as an alpaca puppeteer.

Speaking of those alpacas, special mention must be made of Chris and Daisy. Their limp libidos are why this rare breed of alpaca is dying out and the Chimborazzi tribe -- led by brothers Abraham (Edward Padilla) and Santos (Mark Damon Espinoza), with entertaining assistance from Angel (Reggie De Leon) -- is in trouble as well. The amorously-challenged alpacas claim several spotlight moments in scenic designer Beowulf Boritt's whimsical vision of the Chimborazzi's mountaintop village, colorfully lit by Jeff Croiter. And Modine's efforts to, er, stimulate their senses brings comically disastrous results.

So, does Matthew Modine really save the alpacas? It really gives nothing away to say that there is, of course, a Hollywood ending to this Hollywood story. But there is also an enormous amount of fun to be had along the way.