By Jon Brittain; Directed by Donnacadh O'Briain
Produced by Hartshorn - Hook Productions as part of Brits Off Broadway
Off Broadway, Play
Runs through 6.10.17
59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street
by Zachary Conner on 5.30.17
Anna Martine Freeman, Alice McCarthy in Rotterdam. Photo by Hunter Canning.
BOTTOM LINE: An Olivier Award-winning production examining the role of gender identity in relationships, and the power of love to reach beyond convention.
It’s pretty universal that at one point or another, we all want to be someone other than ourselves. At times, it’s an individual we find is skinnier, better looking, more intelligent, etc. But what if you came to realize that you were born into a body that was the wrong gender? Jon Brittain’s poignant new play, Rotterdam, explores this concept with the help of a small but mighty ensemble of performers.
Rotterdam focuses predominantly on the relationship between two women—Fiona, later Adrian (Anna Martine Freeman), and Alice (Alice McCarthy)—and their lives together in the titular Dutch city. We learn that Alice originally moved to Rotterdam and began dating her colleague Josh (Ed Eales-White), but after coming to terms with her sexual orientation, began a serious relationship with his sister, Fiona. Now, Alice finds strength in attempting to come out to her parents (hilariously, via a belabored email), with the confidence she gains from her relationship with Fiona. However, it’s quickly apparent that though Fiona may seem like an empowered lesbian, she has a secret she’s been keeping from Alice, a secret that could change everything—Fiona identifies as a man. Before Alice can click “send” and officially free herself of a burden that’s weighed heavily on her conscience, Fiona sees her opportunity, and comes clean. Thus begins an emotionally complex, and deftly written play, directed beautifully by Donnacadh O’Briain.
McCarthy is just about the most adorably quirky human in existence as Alice, a woman trying desperately to come to terms with the fact that the woman she loves is trying everything she can to kill her former self, and start anew in a gender seemingly impossible for Alice to be attracted to. She is a neurotic, tightly-woven “good girl”—the perfect powder keg for emotional instability. McCarthy succeeds in depicting Alice as a character that wrongly makes everything going on with Fiona about herself, while remaining likeable and justified in her actions. To cope with her sense of crisis, Alice solicits guidance from an unlikely comrade, Josh, and even rebels by seeking emotional and physical connection in the form of Dutch native Lelani (Ellie Morris).
With Fiona now beginning hormone therapy, altering her appearance by binding her breasts under her clothes, and beginning to go by the name of Adrian, Alice is overwhelmed by the seemingly unbearable amount of change, and is lost in her search for consolation and understanding. Lelani adds another layer of confusion into Alice’s life by making it apparent that she too has feelings for Alice, and beginning very pointed attempts at courtship. Taking her up on one of the offers, Alice goes behind Adrian’s back, and spends a somewhat romantic night out on the town with Lelani—realizing what she needs physically in a relationship, and slowly coming to terms with the fact that Adrian might not be able to provide that for her anymore.
A review of Rotterdam isn’t complete without a shout out to the combination of staging by O’Briain and sound design by Keegan Curran. Everything from the show’s opening showing us a flurry of activity in the cast’s respective apartments set to Dutch pop music, to the show’s most memorable dialogue-free moment underscored by pop artist Robyn, is wonderfully designed in such a way that enables the emotional moments of the production to soar beyond what is scripted.
Rotterdam moves towards an ending that is ultimately satisfying, if not completely neat or fairy-tale. Its conversation on the subject of the trans community is handled in a way that feels genuine, and never heavy handed. As Fiona, then Adrian, Freeman shows us an individual surpassing gender identity, giving us a performance altogether devastating, hopeful, and incredibly relatable—no matter what walk of life you come from. His struggle in finding a place to belong, and being seen for who he really is deals a heavy emotional blow. While the trans community is certainly a focal point of this production, it’s easy to forget as an audience member that you’re watching a piece with clearly identified gender representations, and easy to lose yourself in a story that conveys the idea that love is messy, often knows no constraints, can deceive you for better or for worse, but ultimately will bring you home where you belong.
(Rotterdam plays at 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street, through June 10th, 2017. The running time is two hours and twenty minutes with an intermission. Performances are Tuesdays through Fridays at 7:30; Saturdays at 2:30 and 7:30; Sundays at 3:30 and 7:30. Tickets are $25 and are available at 59e59.org or by calling 212-279-4200.)
Rotterdam is by Jon Brittain. Directed by Donnacadh O'Briain. Movement Direction is by Juri Nael. Set Design is by Ellan Parry. Lighting Design is by Richard Williamson. Sound Design is by Keegan Curran. Fight Director is Rob Leonard. Associate Director is Roxy Cook. Stage Manager is Catriona Jackson.
The cast is Ed Eales-White, Anna Martine Freeman, Alice McCarthy, and Ellie Morris.