Human relationships are problematic, whoever you are.
Imagine you’re a gay woman happily partnered with another, and after some years together your beloved informs you that she’s always felt she’s a man and plans, maybe, to undergo a change. How would you feel about that?
Alice (Miranda Wynne), one of two principal characters in Jon Brittain’s Rotterdam, skillfully directed by Michael A. Shepperd at the Skylight Theatre, isn’t sure how she feels. A 20-something Brit living in Rotterdam with her likable lover, Fiona (Ashley Romans), Alice’s biggest problem when we meet her is coming out to her conservative parents in London. She’s written them an email but can’t bring herself to send it, and some squabbling ensues between her and Fiona, who luckily doesn’t have this problem; her own family is open and progressive.
The situation radically shifts after Fiona makes her big announcement that she now wants to be he — altering his public identity to match his private one, and changing his name from Fiona to Adrian. Alice tries to take Adrian’s decision in stride, but she’s privately unsettled, and commences a tentative friendship with Lelani (Audrey Cain), a flighty gay woman from work whose overtures she had previously brushed aside. Her anxiety increases when she learns that her best friend, Josh (Ryan Brophy), her boyfriend when (not yet out) she’d first come to Rotterdam, is leaving. “You’re not supposed to stay in Rotterdam,” he tells her. “It’s a port. Everything’s moving on …”
Meanwhile, Adrian has his own stuff to deal with — he’s become super-sensitive to slights, overreacting in situations where people continue to perceive him as a woman, and expressing his frustration to Alice and Josh, who, it turns out, is his big brother, and probably his best friend as well.
Rotterdam doesn’t exactly drag in Act 1 but it does tarry, as Alice and Adrian share multiple times their angst and trepidations about the future. The ante is upped considerably in Act 2, when game-changing conflicts between the lovers, and also between the two brothers, take shape, and the heretofore marginal Lelani thrusts herself unmistakably into Alice’s life.
This is the sort of material that, clumsily handled, can come off as all too precious. But Shepperd hasn’t earned his reputation as one of L.A.’s best directors for naught. Against designer Jeff McLaughlin’s surreal metropolitan landscape, Wynne, Romans and Brophy exude a naturalness and generosity that transport you to the heart of the story — which is the struggle to hold on to love once you’ve found it. Billed as “a queer love story about all of us,” the show lives up to that hype.
GO! Skylight Theatre, 1816½ N. Vermont Ave., Los Feliz; through Dec. 11. (213) 761-7061, skylighttheatrecompany.com/on-stage/rotterdam.html.