Ottawa Sun (Ca), January 12, 1995


(Previously published on January 11 as a shorter version under the title 'The play's the thing') by Nelle Oosterom

WINNIPEG (CP) - To succeed or not to succeed. That is the question.

Can Keanu Reeves - a young and seriously famous Hollywood star - pull off a credible perfomance of Hamlet when it opens at the Manitoba Theatre Centre tonight?

Does it matter?

Reeves, star of the hit film Speed and idol of young women everywhere, is not exactly starving for public acclaim.

And at least one of the actors who shares the stage with Reeves doesn't care about negative reviews.

"I think whether the show is a failure or success is so secondary to a lot of us because of the situation," said Stephen Russell, who plays a ruthless Claudius to Reeves' questing Hamlet.

The "situation" is that the play, which runs until Feb. 4, is sold out for its entire run on account of Reeves.

Reeves, so famous that he can afford to refuse media interviews - and does - seems at first read an unlikely candidate for Hamlet.

His first big Hollywood break was as Ted, the "rad" airhead in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure in 1989.

In last summer's Speed, he portrayed a SWAT-team officer who must stop an out-of-control bus.

A proven master of action, adventure and silliness, the 30-year old now tackles what is condidered the most demanding role in theatre.

It turns out he's been a closet Shakespearean all along.

Reeves, who has long wanted to do Hamlet, was approached a year ago by the theatre's artistic director Steven Schippper.

After researching the theatre's record, the actor agreed, apparently seizing the opportunity to play a high risk role in a low profile setting.

"The first thing I noticed about Keanu is how much work he'd already done in preparing for Hamlet," said Russell, a veteran Shakespearean actor.

"It was apparent to me that this was not going to be a star trip, this was not going to be a romp in the park, that he is a very serious young man and he was not here to fool around."

A darkly handsome man, Reeves is described as quiet, hardworking and with a sense of humor - especially when he flubs his lines.

When he performed a dress reheasal before a group of high school students last week, he stumbled over and then forgot part of a scene in Act 5. Reeves turned to the audience and said: "I still don't know my lines."

Reeves must deliver seven soliloquies and 19 major speeches as Hamlet.

Russell expects Reeves' Hamlet to reflect his youthfulness.

"I think you're going to see a vulnerable Hamlet," said Russell.

"I also think you're going to see and electric Hamlet in terms of his freedom to make choices because of who he is."

The production has attracted attention from around the world.

Hundreds of people from as far as Australia are flying in to see it.

Reeves is especially poplular among teenage girls. An Edmonton group of them organized a trip to Winnipeg once they learned Reeves would be here.

Meanwhile, Reeves' manager has refused to allow the actor's stage performance to be taped for television.

Erwin Stoff has disallowed videotaping of the show out of concern it could end up in the hands of tabloid TV shows such as Hard Copy and A Current Affair.

The actor's last attempt at Shakespeare, in Kenneth Branagh's movie Much Ado About Nothing, was dubbed a failure by critic.

Article Focus:



Hamlet , Speed , Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure , Much Ado About Nothing

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