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Morris chimes in: "Yeah, I have one."
The collaboration started shortly after the couple met in 1994. Gibson, a former actor who'd scored roles on "Knots Landing" and "General Hospital," had written a play called Veranda, about an upper-crust Atlanta family dealing with their gay son. He'd left the script lying in a drawer for several years until he dusted it off to show to Gibson, a partner in a major Atlanta law firm. Gibson's reaction was positive, but he thought the script could be lot better.
After a little polishing and a lot of editing, the duo mounted a production of Veranda at 14th Street Playhouse in 1995 -- with unexpected results.
"We just did it for fun and it just snowballed," Gibson says. "It had this cult following and people wanted to see it again and again."
They followed the success of Veranda with two sequels and saw similar results. Like Peachtree Battle, the Veranda series also parodies Buckhead life, but takes a gentler approach than the dark comedy. The series follows the exploits of Sarah Edwards, matron of a Southern Baptist family who longs to be elected "Christian of the Year," all the while coping with her son's coming out.
But the popularity of the Veranda series was almost the theater company's undoing. Extended runs of sold-out shows invariably led to scheduling conflicts with the 14th Street Playhouse. In true Judy Garland-Mickey Rooney fashion, Gibson and Morris decided, why don't we just open our own theater?
After a couple of setbacks (including an early promising space that turned out to be in the path of the new 17th Street bridge), they finally found an old blueprint shop that just happened to have a raised platform suitable for a stage. With a little sound proofing, some black curtains blocking the traffic on Peachtree Street and the addition of a makeshift dressing room on the floor below, Peachtree Playhouse was born. The theater certainly has its limitations; actors in costume must quickly duck through the Peachtree Lofts lobby to get backstage, plus the shoebox-style seating area makes traffic flow a little hairy. But there's the nice perk of access to the Vortex, and the alcohol certainly helps.
When Anna House first read the script for Veranda, she thought it sucked. She reluctantly accepted the part of Viola, the level-headed housekeeper who helps keep Sarah Edwards in check, and found that the show worked a lot better on stage than on paper.
"It plays a lot funnier than it reads," House says. "A lot of it is in the staging, the interaction between characters. So I was pleasantly surprised."
That sense of surprise hasn't relented in the seven years since the first Veranda; House has returned to play Viola in both sequels and is now holding court as Azalea Wieuca, the alcoholic grandmother who unites the comedic and emotional heart of Peachtree Battle.
House admits she never suspected that Veranda would develop such a cult following, and she's astonished at Peachtree Battle's popularity.
"We're all sort of scratching our heads ourselves," she says. "It's like winning the lottery -- you never expect it to happen."
House and others have called Peachtree Battle a "breakthrough show" in that its draw has extended beyond the theater's traditional intown audience and has begun to attract folks from the suburbs. Morris tells the story of receiving a call from a woman asking directions to the theater. After some initial confusion, the caller finally asked, "Now, where exactly is Midtown?"
After moving to the new space, Morris and Gibson added the tagline, "Atlanta's urban theater" to the Peachtree Playhouse name. Morris jokes that this was mostly a reflection of the car noise along Peachtree Street, but Gibson says that the theater space has "a very urban feel" due to its location in the heart of ever-changing Midtown.
"A lot of the people we're attracting now, the outer-Perimeter folk, feel like they are being very urban by coming down here," Morris says. "Coming to see us is like a field trip for some people."
But the show's popularity is not just an OTP phenomenon. The Peachtree Battle neighborhood association booked a night at the theater, and so did Sam Massell, president of the Buckhead Coalition. In fact, before each performance the theater is filled with the sounds of Melanie Massell (Sam's daughter) crooning the jazzy anthem "It's Buckhead," a song celebrating the neighborhood's, um, assets.
"Melanie Massell's song is perfect," Gibson says, without an iota of irony. "That is so Buckhead to me, it just exemplifies what you think of when you think Buckhead. People hear it and they buy it in droves. It's amazing."
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