Reeves best when moving
Critics give film star nod for first-night performance
by Nelle Oosterom
Dress Keanu Reeves in tights, put a sword in his hand, make him memorize Hamlet and guess what happens.
Not Speed, the movie, that made him an instant superstar last summer. But speed, as in an actor, who works best when he's moving, less so when forced to stand still and recite 400-year-old soliloquies.
Most critics who saw the young movie star make his stage debut as Hamlet at the Manitoba Theatre Centre Thursday night agreed that Reeves excelled when he expressed his agile, animal self in this most demanding of Shakespearean roles.
A reviewer for the London Sunday Times went on further, comparing Reeves to Laurence Olivier.
"Here is an actor at a turning point in his career who very much resembles Olivier," said Roger Lewis. He thought Reeves performed as well in meditative moments -- the star of Little Buddha "has a Buddha-like quality" -- as he did when he was crossing swords. "I thing he played Hamlet as almost a great innocent. He was almost like a little-boy-lost."
H. J. Kirchhoff, reviewer for the Toronto Globe and Mail, said he "wasn't a bad Hamlet." "I've seen better and I've seen worse," said Kirchhoff. "I thought for the first half hour or so that he was terribly nervous. He seemed really choked and breathless. But as he moved along and loosened up I think he improved."
Robert Enright of CBC television agreed that Reeves generally turned in a "highly respectable" performance, but had trouble hitting his stride in the early parts. The reviewer attributed it to a fault in direction that didn't always allow Reeves to pace and strut as he meditated on his fate. The opening soliloquy went by "faster than I have ever heard Shakespeare spoken," said Enright.
"He's got to get off the bus or slow the bus down and allow the language to kind of resonate inside his body movements." Reeves came alive when allowed to move around and interact with other characters, Enright added. Reeve's appearance in a regional theatre to do Hamlet is unusual by Hollywood standards. He accepted the part a year ago, before Speed made him a big star.
It was apparently a bid to try out a tough role in a low-risk setting. To avoid the possibility of embarrassment, his handlers made him strictly off limits to media and allowed no television taping of the play. "The Hollywood types are just distancing themselves from it in case it is a disaster so that they can do a damage limitation exercise," said Lewis.
"If it's a big success, fine. If it's a disaster, well, OK, it was only in Winnipeg. It's an attitude which I find rather disgraceful."