'Dante's Cove' Where gothic meets gay
By Michael Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Michael Tsai
Caution to all 19th-century warlocks seeking vengeance on a coven of rogue witches: When executing a plot to marry one of said witches, thus gaining access to the coven's most guarded secrets, be very, very sure that the bride-to-be doesn't catch you sleeping with the butler.
Side effects — including a 150-year banishment to the basement of a Caribbean apartment building populated by young people with great abs — may vary.
These and many other valuable lessons are there for the gleaning on "Dante's Cove," the steamy gothic soap opera shot in Hawai'i. The series' second season airs this month on here!, the gay and lesbian network offered in Hawai'i via Oceanic Time Warner Cable's video-on-demand service.
"It's a very original, very sexy supernatural soap opera that specifically talks to gay audiences," said Gabriel Romero, who plays bar owner Marco Laveau on the show. "It's not about sexuality, although that's part of it. These are real characters dealing with real emotional issues — with a touch of fantasy."
Maybe more than a touch. The show revolves around the Hotel Dante, a mysterious apartment complex that for 150 years has been the personal prison of Ambrosius Vallin, the warlock cad with whom the butler ... well ... did it. The hotel is also the modern-day home to a community of young adults — some gay, some straight, all well-oiled — who are drawn into the simmering conflict between Vallin and his spurned ex-fiancee Grace Neville.
Thrown into the mix are a tropical setting, a bi-curious love triangle, a few murder attempts, a mystical religion called Tresum, and a generous sprinkling of love, betrayal, power and addiction.
"Melrose Place" meets "Dark Shadows" in the Caicos Islands?
"It's a guilty pleasure," Romero said, laughing.
HERE! IN HAWAI'I
The first season of the show, as well as two straight-to-video movies, were shot in the Caribbean. This year, Regent Entertainment Group, which owns here! and produces films in various genres for TV broadcast and theatrical or video release, moved the show to Hawai'i to take advantage of the state's tax incentives. Season 2 episodes were filmed last spring at such locations as Turtle Bay Resort, Dillingham Ranch and Tropical Rush in Hale'iwa.
According to director Sam Irvin the move was mostly seamless, save for one visual continuity problem. The Caribbean Hotel that doubled for the Hotel Dante in season one was replaced with the noticeably posher Sullivan Estate in Pupukea.
"The Sullivan Estate is much fancier," said Irvin. "Instead of trying to pass it off, we made a joke of it. At one point, one of the characters says, 'My, what a fresh coat of paint will do!' "
MEET THE CAST
The series stars Gregory Michael, Charlie David, William Gregory Lee, Tracy Scoggins, Nadine Heimann and Jon Fleming. Joining them this season are guest star Thea Gill ("Queer as Folk") and new cast member Romero.
As Marco Laveau, owner of the H2Eau beach bar, Romero provides something of a moral compass for the swirl of conflicted characters.
"He's a little older and a little wiser," said Romero. "He's a business man, and he can be very severe yet very caring. He's also a character who knows something about the magic of Dante's Cove."
Romero, who is developing a "spiritual travel" show for here!, said he's excited to work in Hawai'i.
"The Islands are unique," he said. "The land itself is unique. People who live here get into the lifestyle and the energy of living. It's nature at its best, and it brings a certain joy and balance. You can see it in everybody here; it's a different rhythm."
Romero's resume includes a stint on the Telemundo TV comedy series "Los Beltrán" playing Dr. Fernando Salazar, a breakthrough gay character.
"It was the first positive portrayal of a gay character on Spanish TV," Romero said. "The beauty was it gave me the platform to talk openly about sexuality in Latino culture. Everybody has a gay or lesbian family member, but it's taboo and they don't talk about it. Now they could."
Paul Colichman, here!'s founder and CEO, has even more ambitious goals for "Dante's Cove" and other programming.
"I grew up without positive cultural images of gay people," said Colichman, who is gay. "Like any community, all we needed was a chance. We want here! to be a home for gay and lesbian kids, a place where they can get positive images of who they are."
To that end, Colichman said here! is not willing to show any negative images of gay people.
"Is that biased?" he asked, rhetorically. "Absolutely!"
Still, Colichman said here! should not be considered strictly a network for gays and lesbians, rather a network that attempts to show diversity of all forms. Like Romero, he wants here! original programs to be appreciated for more than just their inclusion of gay characters.
The submarine thriller "Tides of War" offers a good model. The story line involves a submarine captain seeking redemption after he is relieved of his command following a mysterious enemy attack. That the character was also gay had little bearing on the rest of the film (scenes referencing his sexuality were edited out for international release) and speaks directly to what Colichman envisions for future here! projects: positive portrayals of gay characters in stories that don't revolve around the characters' sexuality.
"We have cultural engagements that are rich and unexplored," he said. "We're not label bound."
The network scored with the critically lauded "Third Man Out," starring Chad Allen as a gay private investigator. Upcoming projects include "In the Line of Fire," featuring Mariel Hemingway as a lesbian action hero, and "Deadly Skies," with Antonio Sabato Jr. as a nuclear scientist (acting!) trying to save the world from a killer asteroid.
Thanks to those tax credits, here! and parent company Regent are becoming important secondary players in the local film industry with a new TV movie ("A Stolen Life") and a community outreach project planned for the next few months. Colichman said he'd also like to develop original Hawai'i-themed films and programming.
"It's not a bargain to shoot here (in Hawai'i)," he said. "But with the credits, it's similar to L.A. — and you get Hawai'i."
Reach Michael Tsai at email@example.com.