‘Di­vine Sis­ter’ Act

GA Voice - - A+E -

Never known to shy away from gay-themed or bawdy ma­te­rial, the Process The­atre opens its 10th an­niver­sary sea­son this week with the comedic “The Di­vine Sis­ter,” star­ring a duo who have worked to­gether con­sis­tently over the years — To­pher Payne (also a GA Voice colum­nist) and Process Artis­tic Di­rec­tor De­Wayne Mor­gan, both openly gay.

“Sis­ter” is the lat­est from the hands of Charles Busch, au­thor of “Vam­pire Les­bians of Sodom,” “Die, Mom­mie, Die!” and “Psy­cho Beach Party.” We caught up with Payne and Mor­gan to dis­cuss the play and the fu­ture of Process The­atre.

You’ve played so many di­verse roles in your ca­reer, To­pher, from David Frost to Joan Craw­ford. How does play­ing a nun fit into your oeu­vre?

To­pher:

When I ap­proach play­ing one of th­ese women, I have to study move­ment and voice so closely, just to fig­ure out what’s pos- ‘The Di­vine Sis­ter’ Through Nov. 17 at On­stage At­lanta 2597 N. De­catur Road, De­catur, GA 30033 www.the­p­ro­cessthe­atre.org sible with the big gi­ant body and bari­tone voice I bring to the ta­ble. That’s ended up be­ing so in­struc­tive with the men, as well, be­cause I pay at­ten­tion to speci­ficity and con­sis­tency. In a sense, Joan Craw­ford taught me to be a bet­ter ac­tor, which I think she’d be pleased to know.

Mother Su­pe­rior has been a fun new area to ex­plore be­cause her vow is to­tally lit­eral. She really sees her­self as mar­ried to Je­sus, and ev­ery choice she makes is fil­tered through that re­la­tion­ship. Be­ing Mrs. Je­sus is a pretty big re­spon­si­bil­ity.

How would you de­scribe this char­ac­ter? Is she Aun­tie Mame-ish?

To­pher:

Mother Su­pe­rior was a girl re­porter in the 1940s who fled to a con­vent af­ter get­ting dumped by the love of her life. Her best friend came along and be­came a nun as well. Now it’s 20 year later, and her lost love shows up at the con­vent, which would be tricky enough, but there’s also a nun ex­pe­ri­enc­ing vi­sions and heal­ing the sick, plus a Da Vinci Code sub­plot and a few mu­si­cal num­bers.

If there’s any­thing Aun­tie Mame-ish about her, it’s her ab­so­lute un­flap­pa­bil­ity. She just takes life as it comes, which I ad­mire.

She is an ev­ery­woman; ev­ery­one looks up to her and respects her opin­ion. She really wants to re­build the con­vent they are in and move it into the new cen­tury.

De­Wayne: Did you do any spe­cial prepa­ra­tion or spe­cific re­search?

To­pher:

The play’s a mash-up of ev­ery movie about nuns, so I re-watched the ones it ref­er­ences —“Sis­ter Act,” “Doubt,” “Agnes of God,” plus that amaz­ingly bad movie where Mary Tyler Moore’s a nun and Elvis is a doc­tor in the ghetto. Se­ri­ously, I am still get­ting over how bad that movie was.

For my own prep, with each of the fe­male characters I try to send them in a new di­rec­tion, so the au­di­ence doesn’t say, “Oh, To­pher’s do­ing that thing he does when he plays a chick.” I stud­ied Mag­gie Smith, Cherry Jones, Katharine Hep­burn — whiskey-voiced broads who com­mand ab­so­lute author­ity, but seem like they know a few really good dirty jokes.

With Walmart poised to take over the Sub­ur­ban Plaza shop­ping cen­ter (where On­stage and Process are housed) next year, where will the two the­aters re-lo­cate?

De­Wayne:

We want to stay with On­stage to­gether some­where within a five-mile ra­dius, and hopefully we can an­nounce some­thing soon.

To­pher Payne, GA Voice colum­nist and Best Ac­tor win­ner in the 2012 GA Voice Best of At­lanta awards, plays Mother Su­pe­rior in the new com­edy ‘Di­vine Sis­ter.’ (Photo courtesy Payne)

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