“The Atheist Mother”

(L-R): Taylor Donlan and Carlos Chavez

[NoHo Arts District, CA] – A NoHo Arts theatre review of Write Act Repertory’s new drama by Willard Manus,The Atheist Mother,at The Brickhouse Theatre running through November 13.

Write Act Rep is busy expanding its repertoire of historical docudramas revolving around civil rights in this country and abroad. “The Atheist Mother” is another fascinating addition to their pantheon of important stories. 

The play centers around the life of Madelyn Murray O’Hair, who in 1961,  led the fight to ban prayer in America’s public schools. She and her son and some very clever lawyers fought and won the battle to take God out of American classrooms, although this is still, of course, very much an ongoing struggle. 

Because of O’Hair and her lawsuit, in 1963 the Supreme Court decided that bible reading and prayer in public school were impermissible under the doctrine of separation of church and state articulated in the first amendment to the U.S. constitution.  But the journey was fraught with very real danger to O’Hair and her family, the religious right threatened them, had O’Hair fired from her job several times, tried the force them out of their home, and basically made their lives miserable. But for O’Hair, freedom was the point of it all.  A person in a public school should not be forced to pray to a god they don’t believe in and not punished and ostracised for exercising their already given rights to follow their own path.  O’Hair was for a time “the most hateful woman in America” according to the religious right. How very “Christ-like” of them!!

(L-R): Taylon Donlan and Helen Siff

Willard Manus has yet again given voice to a story long hidden away in this country’s history. Something seemingly small but so important to us all and that really does define the much touted ‘freedom’ we all enjoy in this country.  

“The Atheist Mother” is beautifully written, with just the right amount of pathos and humor and the characters are all fully fleshed and very real. But these characters would stay flat on the page if not for the delightful character actors who give them life. 

The cast is wonderful, very funny, easy to connect with and believe and they tell the story in a lovely soulful collective, each with their own very special piece of the poignant puzzle.  How lucky we are in NoHo to have on our doorstep such an earnest and devout group of artists driven to retell stories of import and dazzling relevance.  Bravo!!


Sam Aaron – Irwin
Carlos Chavez – Billy
Taylor Donlan – Madelyn Murray O’Hair
Bruce Nehlsen – George
Helen Siff – Teresa & Women Messenger

Production Team 

Willard Manus – Playwright
Judith Rose – Director
Write Act Repertory – Producer
John Lant – Producing Artistic Director
Jonathan Harrison – Technical Director / Stage Manager


Running through November 13

Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 2pm 


The Brickhouse Theatre
10950 Peach Grove St. NoHo Arts District, CA 91601