Transitioning to new stories

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It's New Year's eve and Alice is fretting over an email.  It's a big deal email.  She's writing her parents to tell them she's gay and loves the woman she's been living with for 7 years.  Her girlfriend is taunting her and supporting her in the way long term couples do.

Alice has almost gotten up the nerve, she's about to hit send . . .  when her girlfriend stops her.  She's got something she's hidden from the world.

She thinks she might actually be a he.

That's the opening minutes of Jon Brittain's trans-love story "Rotterdam" at the Skylight Theatre Company.

The play is an odd mix.  It's a story you've likely never heard before told in a way that's terribly familiar.

The new part, at least for the theater, is the transsexual journey and more specifically what happens if you're a gay woman who suddenly finds yourself in a relationship with someone who's transitioning to being a man.  Are you still gay? Is this still the person you fell in love with?  What name do you use?  Fiona, the name of the woman you fell in love with?  Or Adrian, his new name?  What happens when you screw that up?

The drama is really centered on Alice, it's her journey we're focused on and thanks to that long overdue email to her parents, "Rotterdam" is sort of a "coming out" play with a trans complication.  Here's where things feel a little more familiar and frankly get a little soap-opera-y.  We discover that Alice used to date a guy who's become her best friend and has a little too convenient relationship with her current partner - I'd spell it out but that would ruin some of the plot driven surprises.  
Our fourth character is a 21 year-old dutch girl who serves as the temptation during Alice's struggles and Adrian's transition.

While the questions and the circumstances are new - the drama is a familiar 'relationship-in-crisis' love story.

The production similarly has a foot in two different worlds.  The scenes themselves are fairly straightforward domestic drama.  The scene changes and the set feel like they're trying to make the play a little younger and hipper than it truly is.  The set is an odd miniature backdrop of Rotterdam - which is where the action of the play happens.  There are little lit up skyscrapers surrounding a miniature version of Calatrava's Erasmus bridge, which like the original, is visually stunning but, unlike the original, doesn't really connect anything.  It's eye-candy.

Similarly, the set changes are sleekly choreographed movement pieces that have the actors scooting around set pieces while being underscored by Dutch dance music.  It's zippy and cool but I'm not really sure what it has to do with our narrative arc.

That's the challenge with "Rotterdam."  It's a story that's important for the theater to tell sharing the stage with voices who we haven't heard represented.  I just wish the whole play lived up to its promise.  The scene at its core is complicated in ways few dramas are - capturing two different journeys going in radically different directions in a single scene.

That scene alone is worth the trip - just forgive the soap-opera that keeps sneaking in.

"Rotterdam" plays at the Skylight Theatre Company in Los Feliz through January 28th.

Photo credit: Ed Krieger.