MIDWAY: \My night as Keanu Reeves
Funny how things work out. Twenty minutes ago Patrick Swayze asked me to guard his surfboard for a minute. Now Ronald Reagan has me face down on the floor, with a gun to the back of my neck as he directs Jimmy Carter, Condoleezza Rice and Bill Clinton to “empty the goddamn vault!” It’s a pretty typical night at Point Break Live!, an indoor re-imagining of Kathryn Bigelow’s outwardly dunderheaded, inwardly subversive and feminist-refracted, surfers-as-bank robbers action-movie from 1991 — still the pinnacle of Reeves’ career.
Just like the movie, the stage show has car chases, epic surfing and skydiving scenes, several bank heists and a climactic 50ft “Big Swell” wipe-out off Australia’s Bell’s Beach. With the help of a kids’ paddling pool, a few heavy-duty squirt-guns, gallons of fake blood, some back-projected car-chases and an overhead rig for skydivers — and all within the confines of Charlie O’s bar in downtown LA.
The members of the New Rock theatre company are joined nightly by a member of the audience, selected by the audience, who plays Reeves’ character, FBI Special Agent Johnny Utah. The whole shebang is bossed by Lisa Renee in the role of beautiful, commanding film director Kathryn Bigelow, who comes on occasionally to chastise and humiliate her recalcitrant cast members in increasingly exasperated tones. Renee tells me afterwards that Bigelow herself showed up early in the Los Angeles run.
Other recent guests include W Peter Iliff, who wrote Point Break’s original screenplay. “He came back a second time for his birthday and all his friends forced him to audition for Keanu,” says Renee. “He was up there saying, ‘Please, get me OUTTA here!’” Iliff has now failed two auditions.
That is because Keanu imitation is strenuously discouraged. “We’ve had all genders,” Renee says, “all races, and all sizes. So sometimes, with the skydiving rig, there can be just a little bit more unplanned suspense. But if you find someone who doesn’t know the movie or what happens next, you get a certain blankness that translates very well into a Keanu Reeves delivery. It’s the most fun when they’re totally open to it all — and we do put them through a lot of abuse.”