Doctor’s new play to begin in NYC

Here are the two biggest takeaways from a local doctor and playwright about his latest play – it’s a love story, and it stars film, TV and stage actress and director Kathleen Turner.

Altoona heart surgeon Dr. John Anastasi is thrilled that Turner has signed on to perform in his play, titled “Would You Still Love Me If…,” which debuts in previews Off-Broadway on Sept. 26.

“I was shocked when I got a call from her agent and she’d said that she wanted to be in the play,” he said.

The reason both he, and Turner as well, stressed that the play is a love story is that it also breaks new ground. Over the course of the story, two women fall in love, and one reveals that she is transgender and is considering going through the female to male transition process.

Anastasi believes the play is the first of its kind.

“I think the timing is right,” he said. “As far I know, there is no other theater production out there to address this.”

But the playwright doesn’t want audiences to lose sight of the love story that serves as the premise.

“This play is really about ‘why do we love who we love,”’ he said. “This play is not about being transgender.”

Turner agreed, saying she admires Anastasi’s writing abilities and doesn’t want people to focus solely on the transgender aspect of the play.

In the play, Turner plays the mother of the woman who is contemplating the transition.

“This is a great love story,” she said. “I confess, this couple are very deeply in love.”

Turner’s list of artistic achievements is an extensive resume of work in film, on the stage and on TV. She has acted in “Body Heat,” “Prizzi’s Honor,” “Romancing The Stone,” winning Golden Globes for the latter two films, and “Peggy Sue Got Married,” for which she was nominated for an Oscar. She has had several roles on TV, from the soap opera “The Doctors” to roles on “Friends,” “Law and Order” and “Californication.”

Turner also received two Tony nominations for her roles in different Broadway productions, one as Maggie in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and the other as Martha in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”

She has directed several productions, so she had no trouble stepping in when the initial director of Anastasi’s play had to bow out, she said. Previously, she directed “Crimes of the Heart,” as well as directing herself in “The Killing of Sister George.”

“It just sort of made sense for me to do it,” she said.

Anastasi said Turner had wanted to direct another one of his plays, “I Forgive You, Ronald Reagan,” which ran Off-Broadway two years ago, but things didn’t work out. That production featured Patricia Richardson, one of the stars of TV’s “Home Improvement.”

The “Ronald Reagan” play was about the 1981 air traffic controllers strike and how it affected the personal relationships in one family.

Anastasi likes to write about human emotions and what drives people to act as they do.

“My stories aren’t about any political agendas,” he said.

“This isn’t being written to advance any specific point or political cause.”

He wrote his latest play last year after seeing a French film about two women who were in love, he said. He left the theater thinking about their relationship and how it might be different if one of them changed physically.

“I was so impressed that there was such passion involved in this relationship,” he said. “I was wondering, would this be the same between them if something changed in their relationship?”

The conflict in his play comes when one of the women decides that she wants to begin the process of becoming a man and wonders if the other woman would continue their relationship, Anastasi said.

“So the question becomes, will the relationship survive the transition?” he said.

Anastasi said he did a lot of research before he wrote the play, including hours talking to a psychiatrist in New York City who is transgender and who has several transgender patients.

“I didn’t know anything at all about this world,” Anastasi said.

He said the entire transition process usually takes years. It involves a person first living as the other gender and includes an entire range of steps such as psychological sessions and physical challenges.

“Most surgeons will not touch patients until they have gone through therapy, have lived socially as a transgender and gone through a whole host of other things,” he said.

Of course, the attention surrounding gender-reassignment surgery and the entire transition process has caught the public’s attention, as Caitlyn Jenner has put a spotlight on transgender issues after publicly announcing that she is going through the process.

Both Anastasi and Turner said that can be a mixed blessing for the play.

“It does hurt a little,” Anastasi said. “I don’t want to make the public sick and tired of this.”

However, he has invited Jenner to see the play and hopes she will attend.

Turner initially wasn’t keen on having Jenner at the opening, because she wasn’t sure how it would turn out.

“My first impulse was that it would be a huge explosion of media, but then I thought we might as well go with the flow,” she said.

The play also features Roya Shanks, who has appeared in several TV shows, such as last summer’s “The Slap,” episodes of “Elementary” and “The Blacklist,” in addition to the film “The Longest Week.” She has also acted in many regional and New York theatrical productions.