Sexit: Stand By Your Man?

[NOTE: This review may contain plot spoilers.]


As the United Kingdom is embroiled in the Brexit imbroglio about Britain leaving the European Union, two Brits living on the Continent ponder returning to not-so-Merry-Olde-England. Alice (Miranda Wynne) and Fiona (Ashley Romans) are expats who have been living in the Dutch titular port city, Rotterdam, and as the rest of the U.K. struggles with the Brexit divorce from the EU (which goes completely unmentioned in Jon Brittain’s two act play - perhaps because the characters are too obsessed by their own personal problems to give a tinker’s damn about what’s happening in, like, you know, Earth?), they are contemplating the return of the “natives.”


As Rotterdam opens, Alice and Fiona are a same sex couple of different races and Alice is intently writing on her laptop, as if it’s the Great British Novel. But no - it’s a long overdue email wherein Alice (who appears to be in her late twenties already, if not older) comes out to her parents. Like a latter day Hamlet, she hesitates and anguishes over whether or not to dispatch the missive into the ether to her folks back home who are seemingly unaware that their daughter is gay. Alice and Fiona debate whether or not she should fire when ready, Gridley.


Just as Alice is about to take this giant step, Fiona - whom Alice has already said tries to change everything (presumably to please Fiona’s preferences) - throws a gigantic monkey wrench into the machinery (perhaps as a way of undermining and sabotaging her partner?). Fiona announces that she is not gay, after all, but actually a man trapped inside of a woman’s body and decides to embark on the journey to transition to becoming male. To be fair to Fi, she asserts this is no spur of the moment gender identity decision but something she’s secretly thought about for years. As Fiona prepares to leave one sex for another, call it: “Sexit.”


If this seems like a plot spoiler I should point out that all this happens quickly at the top of the play and is really the crux of much of what Rotterdam is about, making it a trendy transgender drama (with some laughs). Of course, Fiona’s metamorphosing into male changes the whole dynamic of her relationship with Alice.


Fiona insists upon being called “Adrian” (which is interesting because that’s one of those monikers both males and females can conventionally use) and becomes more and more “masculine” in the traditional, stereotypical sense. Adrian acts more and more aggressively, erratically, assertively, etc., and in my straight white male opinion, Rotterdam’s best dialogue is when Alice defends her lesbianism. Adrian insists that Alice is really heterosexual but Alice sticks up for her sexual preference and the fact that she really doesn’t want to have sex with men (which, of course, is her right as lesbianism is her natural sexual preference). To make matter worse, Adrian’s violence and sulkiness verges on screen and stage tropes of young Black men, often depicted in media as thuggish, if not as soccer hooligans.


This four-hander’s other dramatis personae are Lelani (Audrey Cain), who is a 21-year-old out lesbian and co-worker of Alice’s. She seems like an airhead with a taste for imbibing and ingesting substances, but in her total acceptance of herself and her sexual preference, and quips such as: “Don’t be polite: be honest,” Lelani evinces some wisdom. At the after party I asked Cain about the heritage of Lelani, who she said is simply described in the script as being “Dutch.” However, citizen-ess Cain told me she (that is, the thesp) is actually part-Korean, part-Caucasian. Brittain’s play never explains why the actress portraying Lelani is part-Asian (because the Netherlands had colonized Indonesia?) or why she has a Hawaiian name (which I believe is misspelled and should be Leilani - which BTW is my favorite name and can be translated as “Heavenly Flowers”, as in that great Academy Award-winning song by Harry Owens, “Sweet Leilani”, which Bing Crosby crooned in the 1937 flick Waikiki Wedding).


Nor is it explained why Fiona/Adrian has a Caucasian brother, Josh. It’s interesting to note that in this production with three LGBTQ characters, the most sympathetic is the straight white male. (I asked several other theatergoers and most agreed that Josh was the most understanding, compassionate character.) Another point that had many ticket buyers scratching their noggins is why was the show called Rotterdam? (I suspect that it has something to do with the fact that this is a port city where many come and go. Plus, Holland has long been known as a very tolerant, liberal nation.)


A plot point in Rotterdam deals with the unsolicited, unwanted outing of one of the character’s sexual orientation, which is viewed as an act of betrayal. It’s curious that Mr. Brittain’s dialogue purports to publicly expose and unmask Angelina Jolie’s sexual preference - who asked you? Do you think that that’s your role to do that literally on a public stage, or is that a private matter to be left up to Ms. Jolie, at a place and time of HER choosing - not yours, Mr. Brittain? Are you committing the very sin that you criticize in Rotterdam?


Rotterdam’s ultra-mod sets by scenic and lighting designer Jeff McLaughlin are excellent. In between scenes the thesps move furniture, etc., around onstage and use mannerisms that may be intended, in that Brechtian way, of reminding the audience - hey, it’s just a show. Loud techno music interspersed throughout the production, which I grew to appreciate.


Overall, I ended up enjoying Rotterdam and its not-so-innocents-abroad fable. It is well-acted and helmed by the venerable Michael A. Shepperd. As an exploration of the emerging, evolving Trans phenomenon it is trendsetting, but some may view the ending as a trite, Tammy Wynette, “Stand By Your Man” denouement of a very complicated issue, as the conventional subsumes the unconventional. God Rotterdam-it!


This production of the Skylight Theatre’s 2018 Rotterdam at the Kirk Douglas Theatre is a revival that’s part of Center Theatre Group’s annual “Block Party” celebrating the L.A. stage by re-mounting several intimate theatre productions at the 317-seat Culver City playhouse named after the actor renowned for Spartacus and so much more. The first of the three revival was For the Love Of (Or, The Roller Derby Play) and starting April 18-28, Antaeus Theatre Company’s version of Richard Wright’s novel Native Son will take to the Kirk’s boards.


Rotterdam is playing March 28 -April 7 at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd, Culver City, CA 90232. For information:   


L.A.-based reviewer Ed Rampell is the author and co-author/author of four film history books, including “The Hawaii Movie and Television Book” (