New York City performances of "Mother Divine"

Top: Lester Tooley (right), a federal fraud investigator played by Stephen Michael Ayers, is confronted by the first Mother Divine, played by Kat Williams, in a scene from Western’s New York City performance of “Mother Divine.”
Bottom: Ensemble cast of "Mother Divine."
(Photos by Bob Strauss)

NEW YORK CITY -- After a rousing send-off in Cullowhee, complete with a series of sold-out performances and a wildly successful fund-raising auction, the cast and crew of “Mother Divine” launched Western Carolina University faculty member Laurel Vartabedian’s musical comedy at the Greenwich House Theatre in New York on Aug. 8 during FringeNYC, the city’s seventh annual international multi-arts festival.

In addition to producing six performances in eight days, Vartabedian, fellow Western faculty members Rudy Roberson (who plays Father Divine), Steve Ayers (the show’s director and Instantly Religious Son) and Brad Martin (the show’s musical director), along with Asheville blues singer Kat Williams (Mother Divine) were awake and working in the wee hours Wednesday morning (Aug. 13) on New York City’s WOR radio as the guests of talk show host Joey Reynolds. Here’s how Vartabedian described their 45 minutes of radio fame:

“The interview with WOR was a late night, well...early morning...event...we arrived around 1 a.m. the WOR studio in mid-town Manhattan....1440 Broadway and went through the usual New York protocol of guards, phones and buzzers to go to the 23rd floor. The show reaches an overnight audience of 8.5 million and the format is something like being in a pinball machine (and the guests are the pinballs). It is zany, late night radio....”

WOR radio agreed to let them take a recording of the talk show for editing and rebroadcast on Western’s FM station WWCU with the help of Don Connelly. Stay tuned for further details!

Earlier, Vartabedian and cast member Bobbi Baker (who plays Miss Handsome Is As Handsome Does) made a special trip to the Harlem School of the Arts to talk with staff and students about the play. Several of the staff members there remembered former Harlem evangelist Father Divine, whose real life exploits are the focus of the fictional “Mother Divine.”

In the show, death, taxes and vows of celibacy create mayhem in Father Divine’s mission in 1930’s era New York. The first Mother Divine seeks revenge from the grave when her 60-year old husband (who claims he’s God) marries a 20-ish blonde.

“Mother Divine” was the fourth and final production of the newly formed Western Carolina Stage Company, a joint venture of the Division of Continuing Education and Summer School and the department of communication and theatre arts. Summer Theatre 2003 is Western’s first step in establishing a residential theatre company as part of the Actor’s Equity Association, the professional union for actors. The final performance of “Mother Divine” in New York is scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 16.

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Last modified: Thursday, March 27, 2014 | Originally published: Wednesday, August 13, 2003
Copyright 2003 by Western Carolina University