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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, March 4, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 09
Private Romeo gives modern-day problems a Shakespearean twist
Arts & Entertainment
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Private Romeo gives modern-day problems a Shakespearean twist

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Associate Editor

Private Romeo, a new film by writer and director Alan Brown, tells the story of eight cadets who get left behind at an isolated military high school and how the greatest romantic drama ever written seeps out of the classroom and permeates their lives. Incorporating the original text of Romeo and Juliet, YouTube videos, and lip-synced indie rock music, Private Romeo takes us all to a mysterious and tender place that only Shakespeare could have inspired. Seattle Gay News spoke with Brown about the project and its upcoming release.

'Though Romeo and Juliet is usually interpreted as a romantic tale of young love thwarted by a family feud, recent re-readings convinced me that it is actually a much more modern and relevant story about sexual identity and desire pitted against society and its institutions; about personal freedom and rights versus authority,' Brown told SGN. 'As a Gay man and artist frustrated by the political battles and inaction over Gay equality, and by the heartbreaking epidemic of Gay bullying, I thought Shakespeare would be the perfect vehicle for exploring these issues.'

'As Private Romeo's high school military cadets find themselves in the kinds of emotionally tumultuous situations - falling in love, the loss of friendship, confronting homophobia - that would leave any adolescent (or adult) at a loss for words, they must use Shakespeare's language as their sole means of expression, forcing them to explore the profound drama of coming-of-age,' said Brown.

The director said that he explored the idea of the film with his 'wonderful actors, all of who had very solid Shakespeare training and experience.'

'What we found was that, for teenagers - which is the age group our characters fall into - is that within the language they use, there isn't much there to express strong emotions such as love, jealousy, and sexual confusion,' he said. 'So we decided to use Shakespeare's language, which sometimes fits and sometimes doesn't. And it was often those times when the language didn't fit smoothly that were the most interesting for us. It really gave the actors a challenge, something to explore.'

Brown says that Private Romeo was filmed in just three weeks. The film is two-time Sundance writer/director Alan Brown's third feature film. After working with name actors such as Simon Baker, Frances O'Connor, and Bryce Dallas Howard. Private Romeo stars young up-and-coming actors such as Matt Doyle, who starred in Spring Awakening on Broadway and who will be starring in The War Horse at Lincoln Center alongside Seth Numrich.

'The cast was just an amazing group of actors who were committed to the process and to making Shakespeare come alive and feel so natural that when you watch the film, you actually forget that they're speaking Elizabethan English,' he said.

'The film is gorgeous to look at, thanks to our brilliant cinematographer Derek McKane, and has a beautiful score by Nicholas Write,' said Brown. 'The film also includes songs by the indie rock group Bishop Allen.'

Matt Doyle, who has a recurring role on Gossip Girl, actually sings in the film.

Brown says that Private Romeo was born out of activism. 'I'm very politically active,' he told SGN. 'I was engaged - and enraged - by the battle to overturn DADT. Before that, I actively protested the Iraq war.'

His last film, SUPERHEROES (IFC Films) dealt with an Iraq War vet with PTSD. 'I spent a lot of time studying and considering the U.S. military as a society,' said Brown. 'Romeo and Juliet is about forbidden love in a very rigid, masculine, hierarchal society. It seemed a natural fit.'

Although most of the actors are not mainstream, and the movie was produced rather quickly, the quality does not suffer. The guys are great to look at, the dialogue is classic, and Private Romeo delivers a heartfelt story of teenage love.

Brown told Seattle Gay News that audiences will begin to view the film this spring when Private Romeo enters the film festival circuit.

For more information, including actor bios, news, and to view the film's trailer, go to www.privateromeothemovie.com.

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