Will And Keanu's Excellent Adventure
by Riva Harrison
There was much ado about Keanu Reeves last night as he took to the Manitoba Theatre Centre stage to perform Hamlet in front of a sold-out house.
The 30-year-old actor had both weak and strong moments as the brooding Prince of Denmark William Shakespeare's most challenging role - in the three-act, three-hour marathon.
Although he flubbed his lines during dress rehearsals in front of high school audiences last week, Reeves was quite clear last night, stumbling only a couple of times.
In other words, he was a pretty good dude, appropriately tormented as the melancholy Dane and charming as a madman.
The audience of 800 - 400 of whom were from out of town - was quiet throughout, except to chuckle when he greeted Rosencrantz and Guilderstern as "my excellent good friends."
Although Reeves prepped for about a year to play Hamlet, the enormity of the role was weighing heavily on his mind in the days leading up to opening night.
"I have no idea," a slightly anxious Reeves said when asked what playing Hamlet might do for his film career, which really took off with the summer hit movie, Speed. "Maybe if I'm really terrible, it might end it.
"I haven't done Shakespeare for a while, so I'm nervous. But I'm also looking forward to it," said the Beirut-born actor, who fell in love with the Bard as a teenager growing up in Toronto.
"It was having an interest or yearning to move from one form to another. Working in film and having a desire to work in theatre ... I feel very lucky to have the opportunity to play Hamlet.
"It's so melodramatic, it's so great.
"I love words. In Shakespeare, it's almost the equivalent of being a caveman, you're so close to the primal beginning of language. It's like putting your hand into an electric current.
"When you start to speak the lines, and these relationships of murder, fate and kings and queens, and lovers and madmen - the whole spectrum of Western human nature and experience and drama - it's thrilling to read them and watch them unfold."
That the tall, dark and hunky Reeves is adored by fans world-wide is a fact that seems lost on him.
In fact, all the hype surrounding Hamlet - and the fact fans are coming from all over the world to see him during the sold-out run to Feb. 4 - has only turned up the pressure of preparing for a tough role in a short period of time.
The critics haven't always been that kind to the actor who, before Speed, was best known for his portrayal of that totally excellent dude, Ted, in Bill And Ted's Excellent Adventure.
And some Hollywood actors and critics have suggested he has no business playing the great Dane - a role that distinguishes heartthrob movie stars from truly great actors.
Said Roger Lewis, a reviewer for the London Sunday Times: "To people who only ever heard of him after Speed, it's like Sylvester Stallone deciding to be in Swan Lake." (source: "Hamlet - Snickers, kudos greet Keanu")