Writer: John S. Anastasi
Director: Kathleen Turner
Reviewer: Rachael Heather
Never has pop culture been more saturated with information and media examples of transgender individuals both on and off screen/stage. This is not to say that we don’t have much more to do as a society by way of acceptance, understanding and education. However, with such examples as Laverne Cox (Orange is the New Black), Transparent (recently winning Golden Globes and Emmys) and Caitlin Jenner, new artistic endeavors involving trans themes begs makers to answer a crucial question, “what are you contributing to the conversation?” Taking on this topic has both personal and public ramifications for many and I applaud the writer, director and cast for striving to add something to this growing landscape. However, sadly it appears that these aspirations go unrealized.
The themes and information conveyed in Would You Still Love Me If are reminiscent of an outdated pamphlet on transitioning or an overly dramatized after school special. To begin with the foundation of the play, the script does very few favors for the director or cast. It appears earnest in its attempts to convey the usual struggles that anyone transitioning faces especially after puberty, telling one’s family, consulting with doctors, and the vocational and psychological hurdles to overcome. However, it does so with numerous cliches and through the lens of two atypical main characters Danya (Sofia Jean Gomez), currently transitioning from female to male and her lover Addison (Rebecca Brooksher) who strongly identifies as a lesbian. Both women at the top of the play are young successful professionals. Danya and Addison aren’t in the position of many couples dealing with transitioning who often encounter financial issues, at times extreme persecution from their community, and a lack of acceptance from their family.
The main action focuses on Danya’s inability to be honest with her partner Addison about her need to transition to her true identity for fear that she will no longer accept her as a man. The play strives to imbue some humor into the piece to cut the underlying uneasiness but only manages to enhance it by making crude and predictable jokes about penises and bashing on the negative stereotypical characteristics of men.
Gomez and Brooksher seem uncomfortable in their rôles and fall victim to the melodrama which undermines their work and makes the performances feel stiff and unconvincing. Kathleen Turner who is met with applause as she takes to the stage is like a breath of fresh air. Turner, who also serves as director, plays Victoria, Danya’s mother. She is warm, caring and brings sincerity and groundedness to the rôle, for which the production is in great need of. Although, her presence only highlights the severe lacking in other components of the piece. Turner’s command of her rôle and apparent understanding of the characters and the piece as a whole only makes her choices as director more perplexing. Weaker moments in the script that could have been helped with understated direction are only intensified.
In the final scene we encounter a fully transitioned Daniel reuniting with his mother Victoria after a five year separation. It strives to be sweet and wrap up the situation with a nice red bow. However, Daniel appears to be a caricature of a man. Gomez’s handsome features and resonant voice makes it clear why she was seen as a good choice for the rôle physically. I would have preferred a less physically convincing Daniel with a more authentic portrayal, as transitioning is a process and pursuit of self authenticity as opposed to just “passing”. Then in a stroke of serendipity Addison happens to be in the very same park with her new lover, who happens to be Daniel’s former Doctor. Both ultimately discovering that they have what they want but not each other which makes the pursuit of their dreams bitter sweet. For both of them attaining their authentic selves, Danya as a man and Addison as a lesbian and mother resulted in being each other’s collateral damage.
It is clear that this production was certainly ambitious in scope, striving to portray a person’s entire transition from disclosure to having fully transitioned. A process that takes years and involves a complexity of issues and emotions that is almost unfathomable. One could boil down the core issue of Would you still love me if to its attempt to take on so much content. The other mitigating factors are minor in comparison. With that aside, let us go back to the original question, “what are you contributing to the conversation?” This remains unanswered for me. It would behoove the team of Would You Still Love Me If to begin to tackle this core question.
Runs until 26 October, 2015 | Photo: Len Prince