An ‘All Male Cast’ was once a coded phrase to let audiences in-the-know aware that the movie in question was homosexual porn. In merry olde England at The Globe, when a talented playwright was taking the country by storm, it was the law of the land. Women where forbidden to perform upon a stage and Shakespeare, who many scholars believe was homosexual, had to allow men in drag perform his female roles. Director Alan Brown’s “Private Romeo” offers a re-imagining of the Bard’s “Romeo and Juliet” with an all male ensemble cast of gifted Shakespearean trained actors.
Brown not only brings the world‰s best-known love story to modern America, but sets his film in the fictional McKinley Military Academy. The star-crossed lovers and those who strive to keep them apart act out the drama in dorm rooms, gymnasiums, and even a chemistry lab. The dialogue is nearly all Shakespeare’s, except when lines are required to make sense of the new and unique setting. Amazingly enough, it all works without any awkwardness. It takes a talented director to pull off such an ambitious project. His use of hand-held cameras and creative, but never distracting lighting proves riveting.
None of Shakespeare’s words are altered to switch the couple in the tragic romance from a heterosexual to homosexual and highlight sizzling hot homoeroticism. It is a true testament to the Bard‰s words. “Private Romeo” illustrates that Shakespeare’s characters were human first and foremost. Even when hunky males are being referred to as the female character‰s names or titles, does one find humor, irony, or even a hint of the need for suspension of disbelief. Warring families are now opposing campus cliques š one perhaps homophobic and the other accepting.
As the star-crossed lovers, Matt Doyle and Seth Numrich, are neither butch nor femme; top nor bottom. The talented cast all have similar haircuts, sport no facial hair, and are dressed in either military uniforms or required P.E. clothing, so little physically distinguishes them from one. When the line “All as one” is spoken, it becomes apparent that writer-director Brown may very well be adding a subtle new layer to “Romeo and Juliet” – the realization by both characters and audience members that that could be any one of us who falls in love with someone of the same sex.
Brown’s film is a shining example of filmmaking as collaborative effort. Director of Photography Derek McKane’s brilliant use of a hand-held camera and expert framing captures the action like imbedded TV news crews capturing combat. Editor Craig Weissman builds the mounting tension like a seasoned pro and seamlessly cuts into Shakespeare’s play, a classroom reading of the work and new dialogue that places the classic tale in the here and now. A subtle musical score sets up both romance and action. The daring original songs fold effortlessly into the film.
“Private Romeo” is not just for audiences who are fans of William Shakespeare and/or Hollywood’s attempts at updating his classic plays, it’s a film for everyone. Sure you know the story, know where it’s all heading, but this film is worth the investment. This talented group of filmmakers and actors has managed to add new depth to the deepest of classic tales and that is one astounding achievement.
“Private Romeo” screens at 6:30 p.m. Monday, June 20 at the Castro Theatre. For more info, go to: www.frameline.com.