… love and gender …

Fiona (Anna Martine Freeman) and Alice (Alice McCarthy) are two young women lovers, expatriate Brits living in Rotterdam.  On the very evening that Alice is composing an email to her parents to finally let them know that she is gay, Fiona drops a bombshell:  she tells Alice that she, Fiona, is truly a transgender man, and that she intends to transition to being physically male.

“I like girls!” Alice exclaims – but Fiona is planning to become the man she really is.  Will Alice love Fiona as a man? Or, more to the point, will Alice love Adrian?  Because Fiona, at the start of her journey to fulfil her true male identity has already chosen a new name:  Adrian.

Although Adrian has a long way to go to physically becoming a male, he immediately binds his chest and puts himself together as a very good-looking young man.  His open acknowledgement of his true self is liberating for him and he gives no thought to the effect his transition may have on Alice.  He insists and assumes that everyone will now call him Adrian.  Alice’s slip-ups on using his old name anger him.  He’s temporarily despondent when he realizes that, out on the street, in spite of male dress and manner, he’s can still be seen as a girl.

Alice, who has a restrained personality and trouble making difficult decisions, doesn’t know what to do.  She’s perfectly clear, though, about her female gender, and lesbian orientation.  As Adrian fights to become accepted as a man, Alice struggles with the conflict between her love for him and her sexual preference.  She had earlier been the lover of Adrian’s older brother, Josh (Ed Eales-White), who is currently living with them, but that ended when she chose Fiona/Adrian over Josh.  Alienated by the man she now knows Adrian is, she allows herself to be drawn to the seductive Lelani (Ellie Morris), a ditsy lesbian with a wardrobe of hot pants and shining tights, whom Alice knows from the office.  Lelani seeks to liberate the relatively uptight Alice – who even tries a pair of hot pants herself.

It is a great strength of this play that the characters are richly written with a full complement of complexities and idiosyncrasies.  We really get to know two human beings in emotionally intense and conflicted situations.  Through the gender mismatch faced by this loving couple, the playwright not only illuminates issues of transgender, but investigates with great delicacy and understanding the nature of love.  Is the ending of the play convincing?  I’m not sure, but then, there are many varieties of love.

The acting and directing are outstanding.  Alice McCarthy brings an engaging thoughtfulness and lovely womanliness to the character of Alice.  Anna Martine Freeman is convincing as Fiona, the skinny girl with a boyish haircut, and equally so as Adrian – Adrian is dashed when someone takes him for a girl  but he sure looked like a guy to me.  Ellie Morris plays Lelani with vitality and wit.  Ed Eales-White is appealing as Fiona/Adrian’s brother, Josh, who can’t quite get his act together but who, in easily loving Adrian as a sister or a brother, contributes to our enlarged sense of the meaning of love.

I saw Rotterdam at the very end of its run from May 17th through June 10th, 2017, at 59E59 Theaters.  For more information about the play, click here.