Rotterdam: The Sixth Trans-Sense
Straight from a hugely successful run at the wonderful Trafalgar Studios in London, England, and a thrilling Olivier Award win a few months ago, Jon Brittain’s deeply effecting play, Rotterdam has arrived state side for a short run at 59E59 Theatres as part of the #BritsOffBroadway series. And what a tremendous gift we have all been given. The play, directed by Donnacadh O’Briain is rich and edgy, steeped in an authentic sound and fury. It digs down into a topic that is in the forefront of the news these days, especially in our backward thinking world we find ourselves here in America.
Revolving around the love of Alice, played with a deeply wounded yet wonderful presence by Alice McCarthy (BBC’s Doctors), for the sweetly confident Fiona. Portrayed effortlessly by the magnificent Anna Martine Freeman (The Nether), Fiona finds herself in the surprising predicament of having to come clean to her girlfriend about the truths that lie deep in her soul, or, what I should really say,.. deep in his soul. Fiona you see, on the night leading up to New Years Eve in the city of Rotterdam, needs to admit to Alice that deep down inside, Fiona doesn’t exist, never did, but Adrian does. And Fiona needs to disappear now in order for Adrian to fully realize his true self. It’s a beautifully tense bit of writing that Brittain has accomplished here. And with these two phenomenal actresses, we are about to find out how the cards will fall around them in this atypical coming out story.
Lucky for these two, there exists a male they can both confide in. Josh, as played with cheek-ish charm by the playful Ed Eales-White (The Crown), has a strong connection to them both. He does a wondrous job finding the lightness and the humor in this well crafted tale, while not minimizing the drama too much. The main dilemma that exists, resides in the character of Alice, who was just about to come out as a lesbian to her British parents, reluctantly, but with a tremendous amount of support by all in this small enclave of ex-pats working and living in Rotterdam. Alice has spent nearly seven years in Rotterdam trying to find herself and come to terms with her homosexuality, only to find the woman she has fallen in love with tell her that she is actually not a she, but is and has always been a man that was born in the wrong gendered body. Of course Alice feels the need to be fully supportive of Adrian and his realization and actualization, but where does that leave Alice’s coming out?
Floating around Alice’s office is a captivating escape pod of a girl who goes by the name of Lelani, a sexually charged dynamo portrayed by the superb Ellie Morris (The Mischief Theatre’s Peter Pan Goes Wrong). She is everything that Alice is not; exciting, aggressive, out, and very proud of her sexuality and ability to live boldly. She is like catnip to Alice, even if her relationship hadn’t become a place of confusion and discomfort. Alice would have been enticed by Lelani regardless, and now, with Lelani’s attention, it’s almost impossible to politely refuse her.
Beautifully crafted by the creative team of designers (set by Ellan Parry, lighting by Richard Williamson, composer and sound design by Keegan Curran), the piece moves effortlessly forward with a well thought out ear for honesty and authenticity. The transitions from scene to scene are precise and miraculous in their sense of humor and detail, which i’m guessing is partly due to the good work of movement director, Juri Nael. The story is basically a coming out story, and in many ways it falls into the traditional model in the way that theatre has handled that LGBT process for decades. The trans world is unique but not so different in dramatics with a gay or lesbian’s coming out story, only this one is new in details and complexities. It’s a delicate subject to grapple with, especially in this PG world we live in, but this production nails it in the way it handles all the angles of the trans-world coming out scenario. Each moment is filled with perfectly exacting moments of dialogue that resonate and portray the dilemmas and pitfalls before them. It will be a sad day for New York City when this play and this wonderful production packs up its bags (June 10th) and takes this show back to London where it will run again, probably for an extended period of time. Go see it if you have the chance. Be like Lelani and dive right in.