Alan Brown’s new movie, “Private Romeo,” which opens today at Cinema Village in New York, is one of the most creative Shakespeare-inspired versions of the material that I’ve seen. Neither a straightforward modern-dress version of “Romeo and Juliet” nor a tangential gloss on the text, “Private Romeo” is in a creative class of its own. It is set at a high-school military academy, with the star-crossed lovers two young men. Brown says: “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.” I can’t pretend that the use of Shakespeare’s language in some of the movie’s situations wasn’t occasionally jarring. I can say — and this is Brown’s heartening achievement — that the movie forced me to listen to much of the language in a new way. Given that I’ve seen the play dozens of times, that’s quite a triumph.
The movie’s cast is well-chosen. About the leads — Seth Numrich as the Romeo character, Matt Doyle as the Juliet character — I can’t pretend to be objective. I know both of them from my backstage chronicling of the Lincoln Center Theater production of “War Horse” in which they both toiled manfully throughout 2011. They are both first-class actors all the way. “Private Romeo” benefits greatly from their presence.