Point Break Live!: Theater Review

Jennifer Broski
Who can resist the opportunity to fill Keanu Reeves' shoes as Johnny Utah in this audience-participation-heavy theatrical spoof?

This wacky theatrical version of Kathryn Bigelow's cult film features its trademark silly dialogue and over-the-top action.

Playwright/director Jaime Keeling surely earns props for somehow managing to take the cheesy 1991 surfing/action movie Point Break and turning it into a theatrical equivalent to The Rocky Horror Picture Show. While the film starring Keanu Reeves and the late Patrick Swayze would hardly seem to lend itself to cult status, its live-action parody Point Break Live! has been a proven success in productions staged over the last decade in numerous cities. It’s now returned for a New York City stint, beginning with one-night engagements at Brooklyn’s Bell House and, next Saturday, Manhattan’s Webster Hall.

Similar to the Rocky Horror phenomenon, the main draw of this wacky, over-the-top theatrical experience is audience participation. At each performance, an audience member is chosen via applause to take on the lead role of FBI undercover agent Johnny Utah, so memorably played in blank-faced fashion by Reeves in the film. The crowd is enlisted by director “Kathryn Bigelow” to serve as extras, outfitted with ponchos to protect them from the water literally doused on them during the surfing scenes.

We’re informed early on, “You are not here to see a movie … you are here to be in a movie!” And the hundreds of people jammed into the club were clearly eager to participate. About a dozen men, and one woman, climbed onstage for the chance to play the lead role, reciting such trademark lines from the film as “Hey, I’m Johnny Utah” and “Are we gonna jump, or jerk off?” while striking Keanu-like poses.

The young man chosen was outfitted with a neon-colored wet suit and put through his paces by a production assistant who fed him his lines via cue cards and also served as his stunt double. Although a bit stiff at first, the budding actor got better as he went along, garnering many cheers along the way. Another crowd favorite was David Carl, hilariously lampooning Gary Busey’s gonzo turn in the film as Angelo Pappas.

The show essentially consists of cheesy re-creations of key scenes from the film, with surfing suggested by billowing sheets of blue fabric and water rifles spraying into the crowd, and skydiving by having Johnny and Bodhi (the Swayze character, enjoyably played by a suitably buff Michael Christoforo) outfitted with harnesses and suspended several feet over the stage.

During the robbery sequences, the U.S. President-masked perpetrators wander into the crowd waving toy guns, while at another point a car chase is projected on a video screen. To further immerse the audience in the film’s memorable idiosyncrasies, its trademark meatball sandwiches are sold during intermission.

Although a little of this silliness goes a long way, with the show running an unnecessary two-and-a-half hours, the standing-room-only crowd clearly seemed to be having a great time. The deliberate amateurishness of the staging and the wildly broad performances only seemed to enhance their enjoyment, although the numerous beers sold in handy to-go containers may have had something to do with it.

Venue: Bell House, Brooklyn, New York City (Friday, Aug. 2)

Cast: Jo-anne Lee, Michael Christoforo, David Carl, Chris Nestor, Tristan Griffin, Brian Sturgill, Patrick Hambrick, Amanda Schechtman, Mark Sam Rosenthal

Writer/producer/director: Jaime Keeling

Costume designer: Sarah Anderson

Tech/designer: Zachery Wood