Reeves excellent in MTC's Hamlet
by Riva Harrison
There was much ado about Keanu Reeves last night as he took to the Manitoba Theatre Centre mainstage to perform Hamlet -- William Shakespeare's most challenging role -- in front of a sold-out house. At press time, the three-act, three, hour Elizabethan marathon wasn't complete, but Reeves was going strong in the first act in his portrayal of the brooding Prince of Denmark.
With his trademark movie star voice, he was at times a fiery, passionate Hamlet -- the lines of agony etched clearly on his $7 million profile. Although the 30-year-old Beirut-born actor flubbed his lines during recent Theatre For Young Audience performances, [Kerry's note: Nancy and I were told he muttered "Fuck" after one such flub...to the delight of the teen audience!] he was quite clear last night, stumbling only a couple of times when he seemed to be rushing his lines.
In other words, he was a pretty good dude; appropriately tormented as the melancholy Dane and charming as a madman.
The audience was quiet throughout, except to chuckle when he greeted Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as "my excellent good friends."
The curtain rose to reveal a tormented Hamlet kneeling over his dead father, while his uncle, Claudius (Stephen Russel), and his mother, Gertrude (Louisa Martin), make passionate love on a raised platform behind the troubled prince.
Claudius and Gertrude are both naked, except for a strategically placed [red satin] sheet. [note: the staging of this play was superb] The wordless, five-minute scene is set to ominous music that says something is rotten in the state of Denmark.
Moments later, through an eerie fog appears a ghost, which looks like the late king of Denmark, Hamlet's father, at the castle of Elsinore. Meanwhile Hamlet is in a deep, mournful funk; his mother married his uncle within two months of his father's death, a move considered incestuous at the time. This is the true source of his deep depression, revealed by his sarcastic "the funeral bak'd meats did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables."
Hamlet meets the ghost of his father (Gary Reineke), who tells Hamlet that Claudius killed him by pouring poison in his ear. A heartbroken Hamlet is instructed to avenge his father's death, but to leave his mother's punishment to heaven.
Time passes and Hamlet is acting like a madman, ranting and raving around the castle. At this point, much of Hamlet's inner turmoil is the result of his own inability to avenge his father 's murder and lingering bitterness over Gertrude's relationship with Claudius.
The play, set in the 16th century, has a soft, illusory aspect to it. The iron-grey set covering the entire mainstage creates a dungeon-like aura. It's an enormous, moody, medieval creation, with various levels and plenty of black spaces that swallow up the actors and heighten the sense of foreboding. (For a complete review, see tomorrow's Saturday Scene.)