Village Theatre comedian Lauren Schmuck was not supposed to be wearing a hot dog outfit at the end of Jan. 31’s “The Vulgar History of Atlanta.” In fact, she was not supposed to appear in the comedy at all. But writer-director Jim Hodgson needed her to be a substitute, and so his show went on.
The play followed two businessmen-turned-spirits, Beauregard (Schmuck) and Nathaniel (Kevin Goreham) as they meandered through Atlanta’s history from its foundation as a railway terminus through Brian Kemp’s tumultuous 2018 election.
Hodgson came out before the show to warn the audience about the last-minute change. Lead actress Dina Karl had come down with laryngitis, so Schmuck, armed with a script, would take her place.
When Atlanta confronted the Civil War, Hodgson’s villains emerged: Greed (Kirsten Krehbiel) and Racism (Courtney Overcash), who could keep Beauregard and Nathaniel trapped on Earth until their namesake vices were purged from the city. But if the play’s protagonists were to defeat the evil duo, Beauregard and Nathaniel could make their peace and become anything that they wanted to be.
Beauregard wanted to be a cat, but that only further complicated the substitution. Karl had taken the cat costume home after the last production — or maybe someone else had.
“I don’t know where the cat costume has got to,” Hodgson said.
Before the show, all a backstage search yielded was a hot dog costume. But Hodgson rolled with the punches, and the plan became for Schmuck to just wear that outfit instead.
The play thrived in its vulgarity. Midway through the first act, Union General William T. Sherman (Jaymi Curley) walked onstage, deliberating which parts of Atlanta to burn down over Beauregard and Nathaniel’s protests. All of them, he concluded, except the football stadium — that was to be torn down and rebuilt with a “roof that opens like a giant mechanical anus.”
Hodgson did not confine crudity to dialogue, as Racism set the plans of the spirits back rather lewdly. Adorned in a Washington Redskins shirt, a backward-facing snapback and some baggy camouflage shorts, Racism already stood out from the rest of the cast’s generally professional getup. Pantomiming masturbation to manifest Georgia’s 1956 “Stars and Bars” flag only set her further apart.
The comedy wound down as Beauregard and Nathaniel proved unable to best Racism without the help of Greed. The script framed Georgia’s 2004 flag referendum, which was completed without offering voters the choice of any Confederate symbols, as Greed’s doing, and not the spirits’. The villain had brokered a deal between Gov. Sonny Perdue and state Sen. Kasim Reed: Perdue would remove the Confederate symbols and Reed would support Perdue’s proposed tobacco tax. While Racism had been defeated, the protagonists were forced to make peace with Greed’s continued presence in Atlanta.
Hodgson said he enjoyed the improvisational experience. He likened it to “being suspended over a chasm,” explaining that constraints are what produce good art.
“These are the moments,” he said, “that you sort of romanticize and tell each other.”
But no one told Hodgson on production night that another cat costume had been found backstage. So when Schmuck emerged wearing a cat mask with the hot dog suit, the writer-director got to enjoy a new twist in the absurdist play along with his audience.
Despite Karl’s unplanned absence, Hodgson and the cast put on an entertaining performance, and Schmuck did an excellent job filling in on short notice. While future shows may differ wildly from the Jan. 31 performance, “The Vulgar History of Atlanta” is worth a watch. It’s showing at the Village Theatre twice more, on Feb. 15 and March 1.