The greatest romantic drama of all time gets a gay makeover in the timely and touching military cadet film “Private Romeo,” which itself gets the Out On Film treatment on Wednesday.
The Bard comes to the barracks when eight cadets are left behind at military high school, and as they read and study “Romeo and Juliet,” they get to re-enact it as well. So instead of Verona, we get a contemporary setting with some music, Youtube and other revisionist touches. Sam Singleton (Seth Numrich) and Glenn Mangan (Matt Doyle) are opposites who nonetheless develop an attraction for each other, despite opposition from their friends and colleagues.
“Private Romeo” (photos) touches on issues of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” – as the boys struggle to hide their feelings – as well as bullying from the other cadets, says director Alan Brown.
Brown has seen some stage versions of Shakespeare work where the cast is all male, but wanted to do a film version. He’s taken a few liberties with the text and thrown in what he calls “some wonderful surprises” that audiences seem to love.
Brown was adamant that he only wanted Shakespearean actors for the roles—actors who could handle the tricky dialogue. “This is all in Elizabethean English,” he says. He got that in spades.
Of the eight main actors, three are openly gay. Much has been made already about the fact that, in the leads, Numrich is straight and Doyle is gay. Nonetheless there was no hesitation at all about the physicality between them or any of the characters.
Brown says he thought the actors would be embarrassed, but he was the one embarrassed. During auditions, the wannabes threw themselves into the physical part with no inhibitions.
“I had to tell them that this is just an audition,” he laughs. “You don’t have to go that far.”
Brown has shown the film at several festivals—it won Best Ensemble Cast at Outfest in Los Angeles – as well as at several colleges and high schools.
“They have embraced it,” he says. “It becomes political for them.”
“Private Romeo” screens as part of Wednesday’s full Out On Film lineup at Midtown Art Cinema.
Jim Farmer is an Atlanta-based freelance writer and public relations professional specializing in film promotions. He has been a theater and pop-culture critic for more than a dozen years and is the director of Atlanta’s annual Out On Film gay and lesbian film festival.