Hamlet - Snickers, kudos greet Keanu
To people who only ever heard of him after Speed, it's like Sylvester Stallone deciding to be in Swan Lake.
by Roger Lewis
Winnipeg - Hollywood met Hamlet in a regional theatre Thursday night as megamovie star Keanu Reeves took on the role of the Danish prince.
It was an unusual event.
Of the 800 people in the audience of the MTC 400 were from out of town. They included a group of Japanese women who bought tickets for 10 consecutive shows.
Reeves' portrayal of the brooding Dane found a friendly audience.
There were, however, a few snickers when the star of Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure - barefoot and in tattered tights - referred to "this most excellent canopy - the air"
"He was better than I expected," said theatregoer Kerry Dangerfield.
"The parts that he's pretty good at are when he's not too serious. When he's making jokes and he's doing something that's mad then he's really good. On the serious stuff, he's less convincing."
Reeves agreed a year ago to do Hamlet in Winnipeg - well before last summers's hit movie Speed propelled him to superstar status.
The millionaire actor - who took the job on for less than $2,000 a week - caused quite a stir in this down-to-earth prairie city of 600,000.
He apparently wanted to try out a risky play in a low-profile theatre, far from the prying eyes of Hollywood.
His managers, seeking to protect his image, have kept him away from media and disallowed any television taping of the play.
Shortly after committing to the role, Reeves admitted to the WFP that he was experiencing some anxiety about remembering his 1,530 lines.
"I had an actor's nightmare the other night," Reeves said. "It's such a cliche. I dreamt I was on stage doing Hamlet and I didn't remember the middle of the play."
During dress rehearsals in front of high school audiences last week, he did in fact momentarily forget his lines.
With seven soliliquies and 19 major speeches, Hamlet is seen as the most challenging of dramatic roles. Anyone who does it inevitably has his performance compared to such greats as John Gielgud, Lawrence Olivier and Richard Burton.
At 30, Reeves has a well stacked resume, with roles like action hero Swat cop in Speed, airhead teen in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure and the Buddha in Little Buuha.
But he's short on critical acclaim for his treatment of serious classics.
Critics panned his performance as the villainous Don John in the 1993 movie Much Ado About Nothing.
Other experience on the Shakespearian stage date back to 1985, when he played Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet at Toronto's Leah Posluns Theatre. He was directed by Lewis Baumander who is also directing the current production of Hamlet.
Hamlet plays at the MTC until Feb 4 and is completely sold out.
The $500,000 production has attracted up to 1,000 out of town visitors from as far as Australia and Finland.