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Theater review by Raven Snook
It’s a strange sensation, watching a show get dated before your eyes. That’s what happens at Jon Brittain’s Rotterdam, a sincere but overlong British dramedy about gender and trans sexuality. Our understanding of these issues is in a state of tremendous flux, and the play—which has had acclaimed runs in the U.K. over the past few years and recently won an Olivier Award—feels very B.C.: Before Caitlyn. Next to the Amazon series Transparent or queer playwright Taylor Mac’s antibinaristic Hir, at times it seems positively quaint. Even so, Rotterdam poses pertinent questions about what makes us who we are, with surprising humor and knockout performances from its cast of four.
Having formerly identified as a lesbian, Fiona (a ferocious Anna Martine Freeman) begins transitioning to a male identity while living in the Netherlands, much to the chagrin of her longtime love, Alice (a wonderfully uptight Alice McCarthy). Though Alice attempts to be a supportive partner, she’s still in the closet to her family back in England. Now that Fiona is becoming Adrian, does that make Alice straight? Adrian’s menschy brother Josh (Ed Eales-White)—who previously went out with Alice—lends a sympathetic ear, but Alice’s flirtation with free-spirited coworker Lelani (manic dyke pixie Ellie Morris) threatens to derail their domesticity.
If this all sounds a bit Britcom-y, that’s because it is, right down to Ellan Parry’s Ikea-style set design, which is heavy on girl pinks and boy blues. But the acting lends the play depth and nuance. Each character is passing through the port town of Rotterdam en route to something else, and although Fiona/Adrian’s evolution is the most obvious—his breakdown scene is devastating—all of them are feeling growing pains of some kind. That helps Rotterdam reach beyond its semi-topical trans hook. We are all perpetually on the way to who we want to be, and can only hope that those we love will join us on the path.
59E59 (Off-Off Broadway). By Jon Brittain. Directed by Donnacadh O’Briain. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hr 30mins. One intermission. Through June 10.