The Center Theatre Group’s second Block Party show at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Century City is playwright Jon Brittain’s “Rotterdam”, directed by Michael A. Shepperd. Originally produced at the Skylight Theatre in Los Feliz, the play centers on the long-term, same-sex relationship between Alice (Miranda Wynne) and Fiona (Ashley Romans) over the course of five months. Fiona has been out to her parents for years but Alice struggles to come out to hers, opting to write an email instead of making a call or a visit. The words she uses to describe her relationship with Fiona in that email prompts the latter to admit something she’s known about herself for years; that she’s a man living in a woman’s body and prefers to be referred to as Adrian.
At first, Alice takes this in what one might call stereotypically British stride. She, Adrian and Adrian’s brother Josh (Ryan Brophy) are all ex-pats in Rotterdam and after seven years there, all are ready to go home. As Alice, Wynne brings a kind of Bridget Jones-ish charm to her uncertainty as she attempts to grapple with this news by essentially not grappling with it at all. She’s concerned about what this change might mean for her own identity even though Adrian reminds her that when they first met,
Alice said she wasn’t attracted to women. “Yeah, I was in the closet,” replies Alice, “I was in denial, I’ve spent the last seven years trying not to be in denial, and, I mean, look, I don’t want to make this all about me… But what do I tell my parents now?”
When Adrian met Alice, she was dating Josh – who is also revealed to be Adrian’s brother over the course of a couple of delightfully written scenes. Brophy is truly funny and takes on the role of cheerleading peacekeeper when things get tense between Alice and Adrian, but Josh has his wounds and in the moments where he is allowed if not forced to talk to Alice about them Brophy reveals that Josh may well be the only vulnerable adult in the room. He embraces Adrian without skipping a beat while Alice slowly withdraws in favor of a growing relationship with her Dutch coworker Lelani (Audrey Cain). Cain’s accent at times drifts to something that sounds a bit more German than most Dutch people would find acceptable but it is fascinating to watch her seduce Alice over time and she makes the more obsessive traits of the character feel quite real.
Ashley Romans breathes life into Fiona/Adrian [as the character is listed in the program] with a physicality that is grounded in what feels like a richly defined internal landscape. The way she crosses her arms across her chest as if to negate what she finds there, the way she infuses every fiber in her being with energy when the emotions take her from rage to astonished joy and back again. When Lelani calls Adrian ‘Josh’, Adrian’s face lights up. “She thought I was a man. She just accepted it. She just looked at me and… That was it… That was the moment I’ve been waiting for… forever.” She’s so excited, in fact, that she’s forgotten that she walked in on Alice and Lelani mid-intimate-conversation – and that omission prompts Alice to break up with Adrian.
It might be tempting to feel that the play unintentionally makes it feel as though Adrian is to blame for everything that unfolds but that seems an oversimplification. Both Alice and Adrian have moments where their lack of patience and inability to communicate with their partner leads to arguments that could have been avoided but it is Alice who further complicates things by avoiding any responsibility she might have for what transpires. Lelani tells her to stop being polite. Josh knows that Alice’s real problem is that she’s a coward. She took the job in Rotterdam hoping he wouldn’t go with her to avoid telling Josh she didn’t want to be with him. “And you know what the worst part is?,” he goes on, “I’ve spent seven years here too. Most people would have gone when their girlfriend left them for their sister, not me. I soldiered on. And as a reward, I got to watch it happen all over again.”
Josh admits he never understood that Alice didn’t love him until he saw her with Adrian. That, coupled with Lelani’s post-sex admission to Alice that she sent the email outing herself to Alice’s parents without permission pushes Alice to follow Adrian to the ferry and back to the UK. We don’t get to know how things turn out and its possible we wouldn’t want to. Though the play gives Alice a chance to admit she just wants the person Fiona or Adrian is inside, there is something about the way we get there that undermines the victory. Perhaps it’s the pop-music-driven scene changes that tend to look more like a military exercise than any kind of physical reveal of the characters. It’s always much more interesting to watch actors move furniture in character than it is to watch stagehands try to do it invisibly in low light but the way the characters move in these transitions feels jarringly aggressive and we aren’t certain why the Dutch dance/pop music was necessarily always the best choice. They are in Rotterdam, but they are also British.
The scenic and lighting design by Jeff McLaughlin is very well done – if you’ve ever been to Rotterdam you get an instant sense of déjà vu looking at the way the famous bridge is depicted. Costume design is by Naila Aladdin Sanders. Sound design is once again beautifully crafted by Christopher Moscatiello. The Center Theatre Group Associate Producer is Lindsay Allbaugh. The production stage manager is Garrett Crouch. The stage manager is Marcedes L. Clanton.
“Rotterdam” runs MARCH 28 – APRIL 7, 2019. Tickets for Block Party are available online:
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