There’s no shortage of theatre pieces about gay men – but if you’re looking for works that deal with the experiences of gay women or trans people, you’re going to be hard-pressed to find more than a few.
Fortunately, a play that explores both of these subjects is soon to appear onstage at the Skylight Theatre in Los Feliz.
“Rotterdam” is an import from the U.K., where it was first produced in 2015. It received a nomination for Best New Play at London’s Off West End Awards and won an Olivier Award (Britain’s equivalent of a Tony) for Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliate Theatre.
Written by Jon Brittain (who has authored several critically-acclaimed plays, as well as writing shows for Radio 4 and the Cartoon Network), it’s billed as “A queer love story about all of us…”
The plot concerns a lesbian couple, Alice and Fiona, who share a flat in Rotterdam. On New Year’s Eve, Alice has finally found the courage to email her parents and tell them she’s gay. But before Alice can hit “send,” Fiona reveals that she has always thought of herself as a man – and that now she wants to live as one. This bombshell announcement sends their 7-year-old relationship into a tailspin, setting the stage for a comedy with powerful questions about love and identity at its core.
Playwright Brittain says about the work, “Everything I’ve ever written has had some kind of comedic angle to it. To entertain someone is an excellent way to open them up to new thoughts. This story is an optimistic one. Given what’s happening in the world today, I think we need a bit of optimism.”
The production is directed by Michael A. Shepperd, the Ovation-winning co-Artistic Director of L.A.’s Celebration Theatre – which he describes, accurately and with great pride – as “the oldest lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender/queer/questioning/intersex/two-spirited/allied/asexual/cisgender/non-gender-binary theatre in the country.”
He says he was drawn to the play by the fact “that it’s a beautiful love story about two women – and we don’t see that onstage a lot.”
He also like that it’s about having the courage to be yourself. “To live your truth out loud can be dangerous,” adds Shepperd. “But to take that step into your authentic self can make you much more powerful than anything the world can throw at you. ‘Rotterdam’ explores that, as well as asking the question, ‘Can we live our true authentic selves and still be loved by the people around us?’”
That question, as expressed in Alice and Fiona’s dilemma, feeds into the show’s universal appeal.
At its heart, he says, “Rotterdam” is really about change. “In any long-term relationship, there’s a series of changes you go through; and either you change together, to move forward, or both of you change and you move apart. It can be very difficult sometimes – and it’s something that anyone can relate to.”
He’s not alone in his enthusiasm for the play’s inclusiveness. “What’s been very cool is that I’ve had people coming out of the woodwork to help. I have five trans people working on the project, I have two lesbians working with me to make sure the scenes between the women are accurate and honest; it’s been one of those things where everyone who has read the script has fallen in love with it and wants to be a part of it – which is what our community should be every day.”
As to how the show addresses our current cultural climate, at a time when we are seeing a rise in transgender stories within our popular culture (“Transparent,” “Boy Meets Girl,” “Orange is the New Black”), even as the regressive attitudes of the Trump era threaten to push back against our hard-won social progress, Shepperd says “Rotterdam” takes a non-confrontational approach. “It’s not a political play. It’s not about the trans or lesbian or queer community. We’re not approaching as a ‘trans play’ or a ‘lesbian play.’ We’re asking, ‘What is the story, and what is the message that it’s telling us?’ But I think that now, more than ever, these types of stories need to be told, so that people will see them and hopefully open their minds about what other communities, outside of their own, are like.”
“Rotterdam” by Jon Brittain opens at 8:30pm Saturday, November 11th and plays at 8:30pm on Fridays and Saturdays; 2:00pm on Sundays; and 8:00pm on Mondays through December11, 2017. Skylight Theatre is located at 1816 1/2 N. Vermont Ave, LA, 90027. Tickets are $15 – $41. Reservations: 213-761-7061 or or 866-811-4111. Online at http://SkylightTix.com