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Hansen: The colorful, sharp pen behind 'Lagunatics'

Some people in Laguna Beach look forward to the Pageant of the Masters every year. Others only care about the Brooks Street Surfing Classic. But for me, it's always "Lagunatics."

Maybe it's because of the clever inside jokes. Or seeing the sacred cow mocked. Or knowing that hypocrisy can be really funny: "My tree is sacred. Your tree is blocking my view."

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After 23 years, "Lagunatics" still holds its own as the ultimate parody of Laguna, by Laguna. The brainchild of Bree Burgess Rosen, the show gets a lot of its content from Chris Quilter, who has been one of its writers for 11 years.

"I call Bree the driving farce behind 'Lagunatics' because it's true," Quilter said. "It was her baby. She invented it. She writes, produces and directs, and I'm happy to be riding on her coattails. She's enormously gifted at this. I think she basically does it because it's more dumb fun than you can have anywhere — legally and out of bed."

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There are a couple of remaining shows at the No Square Theatre, including Oct. 16-18, and Oct. 23-24. For tickets visit, nosquare.org.

Where you can see Quilter's writing is in the repartee and sly aside. He's the guy at the cocktail party who actually comes up with the perfect line — on time. But he knows he can't be too sharp.

"I try not to draw blood because you still have to run into people around town," he said. "Plus, drawing blood is not as much fun as it sounds. I live here. I like the town, I like the people in it. They drive me crazy sometimes, but I don't think I want to say anything to them that I couldn't tease them about in person."

But then in perfect Quilter style, he quickly adds, "That's not to say that they all have a robust sense of humor."

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Quilter is not shy about taking on local issues. At his day job, he is a board member for Laguna Beach Seniors. As a result, he has a keen interest in the challenges that seniors face, which means that the material often makes it into skits.

"The old-timers are in a pickle and I feel for them," he said. "You've got a lot of them living in town and getting older and economically they're being pushed out of town."

In order to stay, they're forced to "basically say no to everything," he joked.

Retaining the Laguna quality of life — at all costs — is a recurring theme at the show.

In a funny, over-the-top rendition of "I Believe," gospel singers parody the pride and self-indulgence of the city.

"I believe Laguna Beach is the most successful city in the universe," they sing. "This is the promised land."

Then Quilter injects his trademark barb in the script about how Lagunians are Bohemian but really rich.

It's these one-liners that you sometimes strain to hear during the show but are worth the price of admission.

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"There's a lot of Laguna exceptionalism that's awfully easy to poke fun at," he said. "If we didn't have this situation, we wouldn't have 'Lagunatics.'"

Because the city has a tendency to say no to everything, Quilter sometimes struggles to write about issues with a new twist. Every year it's all about traffic, tourists or goats. But one of his favorites is the Pageant of the Masters, which he views as the perfect metaphor for the town's policies — or lack thereof.

"I love the fact that our major cultural institution is all about standing still. I just think that's amazing."

And in a town like Laguna, whenever Quilter feels like he needs new material, he just reads the police log.

"I don't know if you saw the number a couple of years ago … but when you read that a bunch of belly dancers came to blows fighting over a bagpipe player over at the Marine Room after the Patriots Day Parade, you think, thank you God."

Quilter is sometimes surprised at what gets a laugh during the show and what doesn't. And if one of his favorite jokes doesn't work, he's not against retrying it.

"I've been known to recycle an occasional line. Or it never gets the laugh I think it deserves so I'm going to repeat it until it gets the laugh I think it deserves."

He gives an example, talking about the seniors again: "We built the greenbelt to protect us from outsiders."

Quilter readily admits he's just one writer — the one who writes "just the funny stuff" — and he gives a lot of credit to his colleagues: other writers this year, Michael O'Malley and Rebecca Lyles; choreographer Paul Nygro; pianist Roxanna Ward and many others.

His focus is to have fun at our own expense but never be too rude about it.

"One of the nice things about writing a satirical song is that you don't have to provide an answer. That's a great luxury."

DAVID HANSEN writes a weekly column for the Coastline Pilot and is a Laguna Beach resident. He can be reached at hansen.dave@gmail.com.

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