Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 6, No. 050. Wednesday, 25 January, 1995.
From: Christine Mack Gordon <
Date: Tuesday, 24 Jan 95 11:17:47 -0500
Subject: More Winnipeg Hamlet Reviews
Winnipeg Sun, January 13, 1995
Reeves excellent in MTC's Hamlet
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, 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
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 sheet.
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
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.)
Maclean's Magazine January 23, 1995
KEANU, PRINCE OF DENMARK
Brian D. Johnson
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Lewis Baumander
It is a daunting role for any actor, no matter how talented. Master thespian
Daniel Day-Lewis once walked offstage during a London performance of _Hamlet_,
never to return. Keanu Reeves is no Daniel Day-Lewis. And on opening night in
Winnipeg last week, as Reeves prepared to scale this Everest of theatrical
roles, anticipation was running high. Local TV crews combed the crowded lobby
at the Manitoba Theatre Centre, hoping to line up instant post-play verdicts
from out-of-town critics. Kiosks conducted a brisk business in black Hamlet
T-shirts sporting Reeves's image on the front and a Shakespeare quote on the
back -- "To thine own self be true."
Hamlet is, quite simply, one of the most ballyhooed stage events in Winnipeg
history. And during the play's five-week rehearsal period, the star who fell to
earth in the Manitoba capital seemed to charm everyone from crew members to
people on the street. They said he is friendly, humble, accessible,
hardworking. And, above all, brave to take on _Hamlet_. They worried about him,
as if he were attempting a daredevil stunt. How on earth would he do it? How
would he remember all those lines? Well, he did remember his lines. In fact, at
times he recited them. Very quickly, like a schoolboy dying to get to the end.
Perhaps it was just opening-night nerves, but Reeves raced through some lines
at such a clip that the sense was almost unintelligible. He whipped through the
soliloquies, the signature tunes of _Hamlet_, as if they were air-guitar solos.
Locked into Shakespeare's iambic pentameter, he surfed from one consonant to
the next, faster and faster. He rode the play as if it were wired to blow up
below a certain speed.
But it was not a performance that deserves harsh criticism. Although he was out
of his depth in the big swatches of text, Reeves proved adept in the comic
scenes. And whenever he had a chance to get physical, he was impressive. Even
when his delivery was lacking, there was something intriguing about his
presence. The ingenuous lilt to his voice, the blank sense of disconnection
that he projects and his valiant efforts to overcome it -- those qualities make
him a more suitable casting choice for Hamlet than he might at first seem.
The Winnipeg production is a handsome one. Debra Hanson's costuming has an
old-fashioned opulence. Brian Perchaluk's set consists of brooding, slanted
walls with Escher-like stairs and arches. The production opens with an
imaginative tableau, a "dumb show" in which a dour Hamlet stands silent over
his father's corpse, while above him Gertrude (Louisa Martin) and Claudius
(Stephen Russell) make love beneath scarlet sheets. But it is a false promise,
for the play then settles into a traditional and unprovocative interpretation.
Reeves has little impact until he acts out Hamlet's madness. Dressed in
tattered breeches and bare feet, the actor seems visibly relieved by the
scene's jocularity. And as he greets Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as "my
excellent good friends," a titter from the audience underscores the inevitable
allusion to _Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure_. Unfortunately, Reeves does
not cultivate complicity with the audience. Instead of capitalizing on Hamlet's
role as the play's outsider, he portrays the prince in an earnest fashion.
Director Lewis Baumander must take some of the blame for the shapeless
interpretation -- for the throwaway tone of the "To be or not to be" passage,
for instance, which falls utterly flat.
Throughout, Reeves is overshadowed by several more eloquent Shakespearean
actors, notably Russell and Robert Benson (Polonius). At the end, however, he
does take charge in spectacular fashion. The sword fight is breathtaking.
Suddenly, Reeves commands the stage with acrobatic finesse, leaping and rolling
like a true action hero. Finally, he is there, a Hollywood star on stage,
acting the part.
On opening night (the play runs until Feb. 4) the audience accorded him a
standing ovation. At the reception after the show, when Reeves finally joined
the crowd, he spent half an hour patiently signing autographs for a throng of
young women who had him trapped in a corner. One fan proudly displayed what he
had scribbled on her program: "To bee or not to bee." Awesome.