Jewish Pittsburgher lands role as horrific mom in cable series

Jewish Pittsburgher lands role as horrific mom in cable series

Debra Gordon plays Nadia Cavner in an upcoming episode of “Momsters.” (Photo provided)
Debra Gordon plays Nadia Cavner in an upcoming episode of “Momsters.” (Photo provided)

Pittsburgh actress Debra Gordon has a few things in common with Nadia Cavner, the real-life stalker mom whom she portrays in an upcoming television episode of “Momsters: When Moms Go Bad.”

They are both polished and self-assured women; they have similar looks, as Cavner is Persian and Gordon is Jewish; both women have children who attended Emory University; and while Gordon’s son is a doctor, the ex-boyfriend of Cavner’s daughter, for whom Cavner pleaded guilty to harassing in a Missouri federal court, is also a doctor.

But that’s where the similarities, thankfully, end.

“Momsters,” which will air its second season beginning Friday on the Investigation Discovery Channel, is a dramatic reenactment series hosted by Roseanne Barr and featuring the true stories of mothers who have committed outrageous behavior excesses in perceived defense of family members.

In April 2013, Cavner, a prominent Missouri financial advisor and philanthropist, became a felon after she admitted to harassing her daughter’s ex-boyfriend and his new girlfriend in Tennessee, in violation of the federal interstate stalking statute.

According to court records, during a four-month time span, Cavner spent $26,000 to stalk and sabotage the couple, going so far as relocating an employee to Memphis to conduct surveillance. Among other things, she was accused by the prosecutor of discussing the possibility of someone becoming violent with the ex-boyfriend, purportedly suggesting that he “break an arm or two,” and arranging to have him kicked out of medical school.

It turns out that Gordon, who has extensive theater and film credits, including a role in the 1983 film “Flashdance” and a gig as the lead female zombie in 1985’s “Day of the Dead,” was perfect for the part.

After visiting her son and daughter-in-law in New York last July, Gordon got the call to audition just as she was leaving the city to head back to Pittsburgh with her husband, Chuck, the owner of Gordon’s shoes.

“Chuck is very supportive,” she said. “He left, and I went back into the city and I auditioned. It was a cold reading.”

But she nailed it.

“When I was walking out, another actress said, ‘You got the part,’” Gordon recalled. “The following morning, I got an email saying, ‘We’d love to have you play the part of Nadia. Come back next week.’”

So, she headed back to New York, and when she got the script, had less than 24 hours to memorize her lines. It was a “quick shoot” with no rehearsal and little direction, she said.

The show “Momsters,” she said, is “kind of over the top” because of the personality of Barr, who interjects commentary into the story as it progresses. Detectives and judges are also interviewed throughout the show.

Although Gordon has found it difficult to get auditions in Pittsburgh, she has been having a bit more luck since her filming of “Momsters” last July. She recently auditioned for the upcoming film “American Pastoral,” although she was not cast.

Still, Gordon is glad she made the decision to live in Pittsburgh during the time she was raising her family, and has found many ways to employ her craft.

She was the head of the drama department at Fox Chapel High School for seven years, and was the first faculty member to bring musical theater to that school. She taught and directed at Chatham University, and was an adjunct acting teacher at the University of Pittsburgh.

She has also performed extensively in local theater productions at the Pittsburgh Public Theatre, City Theatre, Unseam’d Shakespeare, Civic Light Opera and other local theater ensembles.

Gordon is also known to the Jewish community for her collaboration with the Pittsburgh Holocaust Center in 1997 in the production of “The Hidden Children,” an inter-generational performance piece she wrote, produced and directed about the children who survived the Holocaust. 

While she has appeared in several television commercials, this is Gordon’s first appearance in a series.

“As an actor, you want to do all that you can,” she said. “There is so much out there right now on TV, with all the cable shows. That’s where actors have to be.”

Although she had not yet viewed the show, she is hoping to get some good demo clips from it that she can parlay into additional work, she said.

Gordon’s episode will air this Friday, Nov. 27.

Toby Tabachnick can be reached at

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