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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review

You always make me change things.— Alice to Fiona in Rotterdam
Ashley Romans and Miranda Wynne (Photo: Ed Krieger).
A writer could take the quote above in any number of directions. For Rotterdam, his "queer love story for everyone," playwright Jon Brittain traverses a landscape of personal and cultural displacement and burrows directly into the byzantine workings of the human heart.

For the play's West Coast premiere at the Skylight Theatre Company, director Michael A. Shepperd makes this journey often humorous, always affecting and, overall, the stuff of magnificent drama. I don't know how much everyday audiences will embrace the themes of Rotterdam in these very intolerant times, but the play feels revelatory. And mark down the production's foursome of Ryan Brophy, Audrey Cain, Ashley Romans and Miranda Wynne as one of the great ensembles of the year.

Structurally, Brittain has crafted a relationship play that is equally sensitive to the plights of its two protagonists. When Alice and Fiona became a couple, they impacted the lives of other people, and now this new transformative step will ripple the pond even more substantially. It's no accident (nor is it contrived) that the play is set in Rotterdam, a city where the acceptance of alternative lifestyles could be more easily attained than back in England where Alice and Fiona have long hoped to return.

Set and lighting designer Jeff McLaughlin's rooftop performance space suggests a city that comes alive at night and the scene-changing music provided by Christopher Moscatiello rests somewhere between go-go and angry. The actors shimmy and bounce as they execute these scene changes, almost as though they're about to square off in combat.

As she is trying to come to terms with Fiona's transitioning, Alice starts paying closer attention to the advances of Lelani (Audrey Cain), a 21-year-old co-worker who is as comfortable in her skin as Alice is uncomfortable in her own. Lelani is a party girl who is both older than her years and recklessly impulsive, and late in Rotterdam, she ends up taking an action that applies a hot match to the already loaded tinder.

The play's fourth wheel is Fiona's brother Josh (Brophy), Alice's former lover who she dumped when she fell in love with Fiona. Maintaining loyalty to both women despite lingering bitterness, Josh takes a room in their flat and is understanding, supportive and helpful every time something blows up— Which, given what both Alice and Fiona/Adrian are experiencing, is often.

Fiona gives her revelation on New Year's Eve. By the start of the second act, four months later, things are changing quickly. Ashley Romans's Adrian, who is as confident and self-assured as one could imagine, is now presenting as a man. His hair is tightly coiled. He is binding his breasts, but hasn't yet reached a decision about whether he's going to get male genitalia. The person initially self-aware to the point of smugness is now bristling over every perceived slight (including those from Alice) and getting very close to driving away everyone who cares about him.

Alice and Adrian are both coming apart at the seams in very different ways, and Wynne and Romans prove equally fascinating to watch every time Rotterdam pivots in one of their directions. Wynne's Alice moves from being a person accustomed to providing quiet, unquestioning dedication to a woman who has the guts to be fully herself even when it means being emotionally selfish. Cain, with her come hither glances and Cheshire Cat grin, is the perfect lever to propel Alice into a rash decision or two.

Brittain offers no easy answers. Characters hurt each other, and the play ends in a statement of smart, glorious ambiguity with two people holding hands and assured in the knowledge that they have no idea what is coming next. That's a brave statement in an equally brave play that really is for everyone.

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Rotterdam by Jon Brittain
Directed by Michael A. Shepperd
Cast: Ryan Brophy, Audrey Cain, Ashley Romans, Miranda Wynne
Scenic and Lighting Design: Jeff McLaughlin
Costume Design: Naila Aladdin Sanders
Sound Design: Christopher Moscatiello
Prop Master: Michael O'Hara
Dialect Coach: Tuffet Schmelzle
Fight Director: Matt Orduna
Stage Manager: Garrett Crouch
Plays through January 27, 2018 at the Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 882-6912,
Running time: Two hours and 15 minutes, with one 15 minute intermission
Reviewed by Evan Henerson

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