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Would You Still Love Me If…

A new drama about trans issues turns into an unexpected comedy.

Kathleen Turner directed and stars in John S. Anastasi's Would You Still Love Me If... at New World Stages.
(© Len Prince)

Between Laverne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner, transgender Americans have never been more visible. With mass market television shows like Orange Is the New Black and Transparent bringing trans issues into our living rooms, one would expect an off-Broadway play (which caters to a far more select audience) to be even more groundbreaking and clear-eyed in its portrayal of trans folk. John S. Anastasi's Would You Still Love Me If... (making its world premiere at New World Stages) is neither of those things. Instead, it is a maudlin portrait of one very privileged trans man's journey, presented with minimal stakes and with the typical clichés. Unfortunately, you can learn more about trans issues from any given episode of I Am Cait than you can from this play.

It opens with young lesbian couple Danya (Sofia Jean Gomez) and Addison (Rebecca Brooksher) wrapped in a post-coital caress. While they would seem to have everything (Danya is a rising lawyer; Addison is a published author; they're planning to adopt a child), Addison is unhappy about a recent addition Danya brings into their bedroom: a large silicone phallus. Addison is just not that kind of lesbian, which is bad news for Danya, who has been secretly meeting with sex-change surgeon Dr. Gerard (Roya Shanks) to discuss bottom surgery (the process of turning her vagina into a penis). Gerard is against it since Danya is not on hormones, has not been living as a man, and hasn't even come out as trans to her girlfriend or to her mother, Victoria (Kathleen Turner). Most trans men never actually change their genitals, but for some never-fully-explored reason Danya feels that she can't live happily otherwise. She realizes that in order to gain what she most desires, she might have to give up the people she loves the most.

In the grand scheme of the trans world, Danya's are champagne problems. She's not forced to resort to prostitution to pay for her surgery. Money never seems to be a real problem, nor is anyone in palpable physical danger. Anastasi has set the stakes ridiculously low, leaving it up to Turner (who took the helm as director after the initially announced Nona Gerard departed) to endow the play with any sort of compelling drama. That she does, almost too well, ramping up the tone to high melodrama. Chockful of desperately played objectives and forced emotion, Would You Still Love Me If... seems destined to become the camp sleeper hit of the season.

Sofia Jean Gomez and Kathleen Turner star in Would You Still Love Me If...
(© Len Prince)

In case there was any doubt about this, David Friedman's cheesy synthesizer music wipes it all away. Roughly every ten minutes a fuzzy electronic piano plays a generic sad tune as several black-clad stagehands rush out to change the scenery. It feels like we're watching a live PSA about trans issues produced in the style of a 1988 after-school special.

The broadly stereotypical characters add to this feeling. Shanks' Dr. Gerard is the Dr. Frankenstein of sex-reassignment surgery, addicted to work following a breakup from the girlfriend-turned-boyfriend on whom she operated. "He was my masterpiece… I did everything I could to make it work but he betrayed me with a heterosexual woman," she wistfully tells Addison in a transparent play for her affection.

Meanwhile, Addison is the lipstick lesbian from hell: a 28-year-old layabout author pushing her girlfriend of two years to adopt a baby. Employing child-like diction and the wide-eyed faith of a cult leader, Brooksher nails this role. She psychotically paints a perfectly nice wooden cradle Pepto-Bismol pink as Victoria spills the beans about her daughter's big secret, leading to an epic meltdown. We never worry much about the survival of her relationship to Danya, because it's obvious to everyone that they would be better off apart.

As usual, Turner delivers a compelling performance, drawing out the humor and honesty from a script that severely lacks both. Gomez does her best with the central role, even somewhat convincingly "passing" as a man by the play's final scene. That's no small task considering clichés stream from Anastasi's script like water from a tap: In a late scene Danya (now Daniel) wanders onstage speaking to his bros via cell phone about poker and women. He might as well wear a giant button that reads "dude."

Would You Still Love Me If... is so bad it's good. With any luck it will join the ranks of Mommie Dearest and Notes on a Scandal, dramas beloved by the LGBT community for their ability to produce howls of laughter. Have a few drinks on 9th Avenue and bring your best trans friend; you're certain to have a good time.