Vaya con Dios: Point Break Live Reviewed

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Point Break Live isn't for everybody. Readers who find the idea of a show that requires a poncho to protect them from water and fake blood disturbing, or anyone who can't take a bit of dick humor, may need to skip it. But for folks who prefer a little adventure with their theater, Point Break Live will be an absolute blast. The evening feels like a night at the theater, a rock n' roll concert and a wild party all rolled into one. It's loud, hysterical and occasionally frightening.

When the lights first go down, the audience is warned that they will get "wet, bloody or both," and encouraged to get drunk at the bar. Then a montage of pivotal scenes from the movie plays, set to Guns N' Roses' "Welcome to the Jungle."

With the crowd suitably amped to re-live the story of FBI agents Johnny Utah and Angelo Pappas chasing down a team of philosophical bank robbing surfers, Kathryn Bigelow arrives. She explains that her budget this time around is a bit smaller than it was for the film, and a big star like Keanu Reeves is too expensive. The role of Johnny Utah will have to be cast before the show can begin. More than twenty audience members flock to the stage for their chance to play Keanu playing Utah, and are subjected to tests both physical and theatrical before a crowd vote decides the winner.

This nightly re-casting of Utah is one of the more unique and celebrated aspects of Point Break Live, but it's also a huge risk -- a poor choice could derail the show. The trick of having an untrained actor play such a major role is performed through the use of an ever-present cue-card girl, and a clear strategy among the professionals to keep an eye on their new friend. Utah is never left on stage alone.

The audience chose wisely at last Friday's late show. An appropriately tall and handsome Utah was selected, and he even seemed to have a knack for the empty stare and wooden delivery of the real Keanu Reeves.

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From there, Point Break Live more or less follows the film version: Utah goes undercover to find the bank robbing surfers, meets girl, falls in love, meets surfer guru Bodhi, sort of falls in love, discovers Bodhi is the bank robber, action and hilarity ensue. All of the major scenes in the film are covered, and a general understanding of the movie is assumed, but not completely necessary. A quick perusal of the Wikipedia page on Point Break will suffice for anyone going with friends.

The performances are intentionally melodramatic, and the "4th wall" between performer and audience is gleefully broken throughout the show. Bank robbers swoop down from zip lines to terrorize the audience, Bigelow reminds the crowd to "remain quiet on the set," and Poppas stops the show at one point to chide the audience member playing Utah for his poor acting skills. Poppas and the cue-card girl prove to be the most entertaining characters. Several of Poppas' scenes are so hilariously overdone that they border on the creation of an entirely new style of acting.

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But there are places where Point Break Live fails. Most frustrating, is the lack of microphones on the actors. In a show where performers are regularly sprayed with large water guns, this is economically understandable, but that doesn't make straining to hear any less annoying. And the crowd occasionally strays too far into the show. Halfway through Act 2 it was apparent that many people had taken the group's suggestion to get drunk, and the cast veered dangerously close to losing control of their audience. At one point, a tech crew member in the balcony told a particularly noisy patron to "shut the f-- up." It was a jarring moment, but a blessing for anyone who came to see the show and not the hecklers.

The other problem with Point Break Live is a result of its success. It could easily fill a venue larger than DNA Lounge. Friday's late show was sold out, and anyone arriving late would have had trouble finding a seat, unless they wanted to upgrade to the VIP booths. This too is somewhat understandable, as many traditional theaters won't book something as messy as Point Break Live -- it's hard to picture Z Space or the Palace of Fine Arts handing out ponchos.

But these are hiccups typical to the interactive-spoof-a-movie style of theater, and shouldn't dissuade fans of the genre. Overall, Point Break Live is highly recommendable. By the end of the show, the entire crowd was back in the moment, and everyone screamed the movie's most famous line together. "Vaya con Dios," indeed.

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Point Break Live plays at 7:30 p.m. and 11 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 6 (also on Jan. 3) at DNA Lounge, 375 11th St., S.F. Tickets are $25-$50; call 626-1409 or visit www.pointbreaksf.com.

For events in San Francisco this week and beyond, check out our calendar section. Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF and like us on Facebook.

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