LET ME COVER REEVES PLEASE
by Allison Gillmor
I want to put my case to the Free Press and to the world. I should get to cover Keanu Reeves. I should man the Keanu hotline, receive opening night tickets to his MTC premiere in Hamlet, maybe get a backstage pass.
Kevin Prokosh, our theatre writer has been misassigned. Keanu is not an actor; he is a work of art. This is where I come in. As visual arts correspondent, I'm trained to assess Keanu's aesthetic meaning. (ok this is mostly self-interest, but there are serious points to make.) First of all, Keanu Reeves is a face. He has a silent movie visage - flawless, abstracted to the perfect essentials. He has the same kind of glamor as Rudolph Valentino, whose 1926 funeral jammed up blocks of New York traffic.
Like all glamorous faces, his carries an aura. It somehow sums up all the things we mere mortals yearn for - wealth, romance, excitement, sex, an easy disregard for mundane details. (or it can stand as an icon for spiritual truths, as the great Italian film-maker Bernardo Bertolucci must have sensed when casting Reeves as Siddhartha in Little Buddha.) As aging silent movie queen Norma Desmond says in Sunset Blvd, "We didn't need words, we had faces". Reeves is clearly refuting this with his decision to do a theatrical Hamlet.
By taking on Hamlet he is taking on words. Hamlet is as wordy as it gets. It has lots and lots of words, many thousands spoken by Hamlet himself. And a central theme is words - the way words can inhibit action. (kind of the opposite of Speed)
The switch from movies to theatre involves a switch of closeups of a beautiful face to the cadence and rhythm of voice, a switch from repeated takes to rigorous training and the unpredictability of live performance.
Reeves success or failure in Hamlet brings me to the second way he can be "read" as a work of art. Many people will say that he will either be good or bad, and he will be reviewed as good or bad accordingly. As a critic who dabbles in both art and literature, I see it as much more complicated issue. Keanu Reeves, is of course, a human being like the rest of us, with family, friends, work, private thoughts, and hopes. But he becomes through the dazzling and often cruel light of fame, something else. Like a work of art, he carries around with him larger meanings; he becomes, poor man, a way for us to work out collective fears and desires.
Hamlet at MTC may end up being a terrific work of art. For me the whole spectacle of Keanu Reeves in Winnipeg is a sort of facinating performance art piece - full of glamour, desire, and hidden themes of triumphant redemption or tragic failure.