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It's interesting that Atlanta has embraced a show that so blatantly skewers the city. Darker than the Veranda plays, Peachtree Battle hits on similar themes of family turmoil. Trudy Habersham (played with no subtlety by Deborah Childs) is a blueblood Buckhead mother urging her son Ansley not to marry a Hooters girl, her mother Wieuca to give up the bottle and her daughter Candler to take up bulimia. Not that Trudy is a saint herself; she's on the verge of divorce with her two-timing husband Sherwood and hasn't spoken to her gay son Holcomb since his lover died.
The show succeeds as a sort of sadistic sitcom, rife with sight gags and running jokes.
Atlantans may have a reputation for being particularly touchy when it comes to any ridicule directed its way, but Gibson and Morris say audiences don't see Peachtree Battle as a reflection of themselves.
"That's not our family," Gibson says in his best Suzanne Sugarbaker drawl, "but you know our next door neighbors are just like that."
For Erin Fye, it's the Atlanta-specific humor that keeps her coming back to Peachtree Playhouse productions. Fye, who has seen all the Veranda episodes (some twice) but only recently caught Peachtree Battle, says she loved the show for its politically incorrect humor.
"It's such a parody of Atlanta," she says. "John and Anthony just have no fear in what they write. They'll put it out there. I like that, because we always have to be so politically correct and watch what we say. People just feel good about being able to laugh at themselves."
Fye has already made plans to see Peachtree Battle again -- this time with 10 friends in tow.
The show packs in an extraordinary number of references to Atlanta people and places. In one particularly uproarious scene we're told that Gov. Roy Barnes' wife, Marie, has just gotten into a fistfight off stage with State School Superintendent Linda Schrenko; another finds former Fulton County Commission Chairman Mitch Skandalakis parking cars for the Habershams.
But Gibson and Morris aren't content just to throw in a few names for comic effect -- they also frequently update the script with references to current affairs as often as possible. At one point in the show, Trudy Habersham laments that the family is going to become the biggest laughingstock this city has seen since the Atlanta Thrashers. A week later the butt of that joke might be Arthur Andersen, and a week later it might be the Atlanta Hawks.
The writers hand the cast minor revisions nightly -- even after seven months of production. And gags that flop are swiftly cut.
"We track what jokes the audience responds to," Morris says. "If a joke falls flat one night, it may be the audience. If it falls flat two nights in a row, the joke is gone. It changes to something else."
A big lesson for Peachtree Playhouse was driven home by The Limousine Ride, the first new show Gibson and Morris mounted in their new space. After a sold-out run for six months, the duo decided to take the show for a spin in New York, giving it a two-week stint at the Off-Broadway McGinn/Cazale Theatre.
The comedy places four former first ladies, Hillary Clinton, Barbara Bush, Nancy Reagan and Rosalynn Carter, in the back seat of a limo -- and hilarity, of course, ensues. Morris says the New York trip taught them a lot about the business side of running a theater and reinforced their feelings about extending popular shows.
"When you call up to find a space in New York to run a show, you're dealing with 100 different shows with open-ended runs," he says. "In Atlanta we're basically the only theater than has open-ended runs. We're going to run the show until we don't want to run it. Then we're going to run something else, whereas anywhere else you go, they've got a cut-off date when they've got another show opening."
Gibson hopes they'll be able to apply the lessons learned from the The Limousine Ride with an Off-Broadway run of Peachtree Battle, and they've already prepared a New York script of the show just in case. But that's not the only script currently in the works. Almost everything the couple has written together has had enough material left over to jumpstart a sequel, Gibson says. They're planning another installation in the Veranda series, as well as a sequel to The Limousine Ride, tentatively titled The Bush Report.
Also in development is a more serious work called A Place at the Table. And yes, Peachtree Battle may rumble on with another outing of the Habersham family, a possible sequel that brings the young couple's inlaws into play.
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