Lugubrious though it may feel at times today, Romeo & Juliet still remains the love story for the ages. Playwright (and probable queer brother) Bill Shakespeare penned his story of “star crossed” lovers almost 500 years ago as a testament to the power of love, the innocence of youth and to condemn petty bigotry as a destructive force.
Abie’s Irish Rose, West Side Story, hell, even Titanic borrow the bittersweet tale of doomed lovers. Now a new short film takes the story to a new milieu: a queer one. Still a Rose takes the iconic Act II, Scene 2 “Wherefore art thou Romeo” monologue, and restages it, this time playing with ideas of race, gender and sexual orientation.
With a cast lead by Troian Bellisario of Pretty Little Liars fame (also the daughter of writer Deborah Pratt and Don Bellisario, creator of Quantum Leap and Magnum PI), Still a Rose plays as a surreal meditation on the universality of love, and a tribute to the durability of Shakespeare’s original text. Multiple actors play the roles of Romeo and Juliet, and as the scene plays, the actors swap out. So, at times, Romeo is played by white actor Brandon Crowder, and others, by African-American actress Tinuke Oyefule. Likewise, Bellisario plays Juliet, as does actor Will Branske.
Though the conceit of Still a Rose may sound simple, it has a profound effect. Seeing Romeo and Juliet as a same-sex couple will no doubt delight audiences yearning for a queer love story. More importantly though, the fluidity of the ever-shifting cast makes a haunting statement that even the great Shakespeare could not have anticipated: it doesn’t matter what the characters look like or what genitals either might have. What does matter, of course, are the feelings the two have for one another. If nothing else, Still a Rose proves that after 500 years, one truth of the human spirit endures: love is, and always has been, love.
Presented by Frameline, the San Francisco-based queer media arts foundation, Still a Rose is available in September on VUDU and iTunes.