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August 18, 2010

Surf's up for ‘Point Break Live!’

Point Break Live!
Produced by the Alley Theater. Directed by Eve Hars. Continues through Sept. 10 at the Art Sanctuary space in The Pointe, 1205 E. Washington St. For tickets, call 713-6178 or go to www.thealleytheater.org.

With its production of “Point Break Live!,” which opened last weekend in the Art Sanctuary space at The Pointe, Alley Theater is riding the crest of the new wave in theater. For thousands of years, there was a well-defined line between actors and audience. Whether the boundary consisted of a proscenium arch or a line of footlights, actors acted and audiences watched (except for those rare, demonstrative audiences who pelted bad actors with rotten apples and ripe tomatoes).

Nowadays, we live in an interactive era of increasingly porous cultural boundaries. Those old relationships are undergoing radical shifts, and audiences are being pulled directly into the action, sometimes with wild, wooly (and wet) results. It’s a process that might have started back when audiences took control of “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” but by now it’s a staple in independent, alternative theatrical productions, and it has become a popular tactic even in productions by established companies with long histories and grand reputations.

“Point Break Live!” is a blast. Conceived and adapted by Jaime Keeling as a send-up of the 1991 movie “Point Break,” starring Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze, it’s directed here by Eve Hars, with outstanding assistance from a cracker-jack production team that manages to stage everything from car chases and parachute jumps to shootouts and big surf.

Yes, there is plenty of sand and spray in this beach-centric production. Enough spray (mostly squirting from bottles) that audience members in the “high action zone” at the front of the theater are issued plastic ponchos (and at least a couple of them “died” violent deaths during a climactic shoot-out when I attended on Saturday night). Enough spray (and fake blood) that even audience members outside the periphery of the “zone” may find themselves getting sprinkled. What the heck, it’s such a fun production that you might as well dress casually and get right into the flow; it may be the best way to cool off this summer — but if you really don’t want to get those white slacks covered with fake blood, there’s ample seating in the back of the theater.

In fact, not only do audience members get sprayed, one of them gets to play the lead: Johnny Utah, the FBI agent played by Reeves in the movie. The other night, Brooke Stone (playing Kathryn Bigelow, who directed the movie with over-the-top manic glee and a blaring megaphone) summoned a group of young men to the stage to audition for the part, then used an applause-o-meter to let the audience select the winner. Turned out it was a fellow named Tyler Brody, who has a brilliant future in theater. As Johnny Utah, he had an anti-heroic look (think Tobey Maguire in “Spider-Man”), read his cue cards with a deadpan gleam in his eye, and was a flexible master of the role’s physical comedy (the cue cards were held by Hallie Kirk, in a zany role as production assistant/cue card girl).

But everyone in the standing cast was superb as well. Never has a theater in Louisville assembled such a fine selection of muscular surfer dudes. Kenn Parks was droll as Bodhi, the surfing, philosophizing, criminal kingpin who leads his band of surfers through meticulously executed bank robberies that finance their endless summer. Shawn Slone and Ray Robinson are outrageously funny as Utah’s foul-mouthed FBI comrades (there’s foul-mouthed humor aplenty in this production; the movie was rated R, and I would guess the play might be around PG-13). And as Tyler, the independent-minded beach babe who teaches Utah how to surf, Dana Hope is a raven-haired blast.

From the moment this energetic production started to the moment it ended, I stopped laughing only to breathe and try to imagine what nutty thing was going to happen next. Yes, you do have to decide whether to dress down and request a poncho, but if you want to end the summer with a barrel of laughs, that’s the only decision you need to make: You absolutely must go.