Whatever else one says about Point Break Live!, you have to agree there are not many other live entertainments where the audience is doused with water, spattered with blood, beaned by flying sandwiches, harassed by surfers, and robbed at gunpoint by guys wearing Richard Nixon masks. An outrageously loose-limbed spoof of the iconic, 1991 cult-hit Keanu Reeves-Patrick Swayze-Gary Busey B-movie, Point Break Live! was conceived and written by Jaime Keeling, originally appeared at a Seattle film festival in 2003, and has since toured the world. In 2008, the producers set up shop in San Francisco’s Metreon, running the show on a regular basis until the facility underwent a massive remodeling, but not before then-Mayor Gavin Newsom had declared April 11 of 2008 “Point Break Live!” day.
After twelve years, the giddy over-the-top “extreme theater” event is still going strong, a touring cast bringing the show to San Francisco’s DNA Lounge the first Friday night of every month. And occasionally, they bring the show to the North Bay.
This weekend, for one night only, it lands in Petaluma, at the Mystic Theater.
I saw the show earlier this year in San Francisco.
It was a blast.
The story is more-or-less identical to the movie. A young FBI agent and former Iowa State quarterback (“My name is Johnny Utah!”) infiltrates a ring of Los Angeles daredevils who rob banks by day and surf by night. Known as “the ex-presidents,” they don rubber masks depicting Nixon, Reagan, Ford and Carter, and make vaguely political remarks during their heists. The ring is led by the guru-like Bohdi (Swayze, in the film, Sam Snowden on stage), who lives by the principle, “If you want to experience the ultimate, you have to pay the ultimate price.” In the stage version, there are car chases, surfing scenes, skydiving heroics, and number of epic explosions and barrages of gunfire, all recreated on stage in deliciously low-tech ways that often spill over into the audience.
Take that word ‘spill’ seriously.
During the surfing scenes, the actors douse the crowd with super soakers and sun block. During the outrageously bloody gunfights, fake blood cascades into the air in all directions. During the famous meatball sandwich scene, in which Johnny Utah’s partner Pappas (James Cotner) delivers the crowd-pleasing line, “I’m so hungry I could eat the ass-end of rhino!” actual meatball sandwiches are hurled into the seats.
It’s not classy, but it’s high energy, it’s wildly inventive and it’s endlessly clever. For example, the movie’s director, the Academy-award winner Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker) even becomes a character in the show, Essentially acting as narrator, Bigelow (played by Sharon Rylander) sets up the show for the audience, occasionally shouting, “Cut!” to give a bit of comedic direction.
Though the bulk of the cast are trained actors, one of Point Break Live’s most entertaining ideas is casting the Keanu Reeve’s role from a group of volunteers brought up from the audience. Once chosen, the Keanu-of-the-night delivers his lines from cue cards wielded by his perky handler and part-time stunt double (Christi Waldon).
It helps a bit to know the movie, all the best-bad lines from which are greeted by the audience with cheers of appreciation, especially when uttered by the Keanu-of-the-night. In the performance I saw last Friday, the Keanu was a remarkably game fellow from Huntington Beach, whose crew drove up just to see the show, obviously not for the first time. Experienced PBL visitors come prepared with ponchos and rain slickers (trust me, the fake blood does not go away easily), and like music fans at a concert, often shout lines along with the actors.
The actors, by the way, are quite good, not that nuance or believability is required for this sort of thing. In addition to the highly physical demands of the show—some of them rappel onto stage from the balcony or dangle from cables during the skydiving scenes—the cast must interact with the audience up close and personal, and take care of their Keanu, without missing a beat or causing an accident. In some ways, the cast is like an expert clown troupe in a three-ring circus, juggling a whole lot of balls at once while delivering lines with audacious glee and loose-but-effective comic timing.
While at times it seems more like a Saturday Night Live sketch on steroids, uppers, and a bottle of Jack Daniels than some traditional piece of theatrical craftsmanship, that really barely matters. The unrestrained joy and pure ballsy outrageousness of the thing, and its high octane cast, all turn Point Break Live! into something truly memorable.
To paraphrase Bodhi, “If you want to experience the ultimate night of theater, you have to pay the ultimate price!” In this case, that price includes getting spattered with blood and water.
Trust me. It’s worth it.
‘Point Break Live!’ runs Saturday, November 14, 8:00 p.m. at the Mystic Theater, 23 Petaluma Blvd. N., Petaluma.
CLICK HERE to buy tickets.