Son of Susi Q: Sixth Column


by Chris Quilter


An overeducated friend emailed me to announce that I’m a fifth columnist, at least for these past two weeks. I was sure he meant the fourth estate — a.k.a. the press — until I looked it up. “Fifth column: a clandestine group or faction of subversive agents.” Oh.

What can be said about punning beyond its fully earned status as the lowest form of humor? Surely — if I may call you Surely — the runner-up is parody. Which brings me to the subversive little show now in rehearsal called “Lagunatics.” The musical parody roast of the coast is celebrating its 20th anniversary next month with a “best of” show called “Schlock & Awe.”

I saw my first “Lagunatics” at the Playhouse in 1995. The town had recently surfaced from two back-to-back once-in-a-century floods. The house lights dimmed, and an announcement was made that in case of emergency our seat cushions could be used as flotation devices. I was hooked. It wasn’t until 2003, however, that I started to write for the show — realizing a boyhood dream that had been simmering ever since I heard “Happy Birthday to you/You belong in a zoo….”

“Schlock & Awe” has one constant: its founder-impresaria-diva-director-co-writer and sommelier Bree Burgess Rosen, who also performs in the show using her pseudonym Bree Burgess. I generally prefer larger-than-life personalities in small doses. Luckily, Bree doesn’t come in small doses. Her motto — “nothing exceeds like excess” — has become the show’s hallmark.

One of my favorite examples is “Circle of Cars.” I’m not a fan of Disney stage musicals, for the same reason I prefer Bugs Bunny to Mickey Mouse. But “Circle of Life” — the opening number from “The Lion King” — is irresistible theater. The stage fills to overflowing with a watch-us-top-this procession of Julie Taymor’s people-powered menagerie. The stage also overflows with the kind of earnest anthropomorphism that invites parody.

Enter “Circle of Cars,” which kicked off “Lagunatics 2005” at the Artists Theatre. Nearly the entire cast came onstage in a stately procession of wearable cardboard cars while singing:

“It’s the circle of cars/And it drives us all/To despair and rage/And up the wall/ Till we find a place…..”

The number kept building until the stage was gridlocked. Then two scenery panels rotated to create an empty parking space “reserved for you” as the Heavenly Quarter of Refulgence descended into view. The audience went bananas.

The catharsis of shared laughter — the kind you can get only from live theater — will be on full display at “Schlock & Awe.” But you won’t be seeing “Circle of Cars.” Bree never cared much for it. Apart from being backstage at the end of a long line of cars for most of it, she says an opening number should not be a dirge, not even a parody of a dirge.

BTW, another terrific piece of theater is coming to the Playhouse. I caught “The 39 Steps” last year at the Ahmanson. With a cast of four playing 150 parts, this witty recreation of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1930s pre-Hollywood thriller provides pure theatrical delight. “The 39 Steps” is a why-we-go-to-the-theater comedy that also suggests the Playhouse has got its mojo back.

Laguna resident Chris Quilter will see you at “Lagunatics” (Oct 13-28) at the Forum Theater and “The 39 Steps” (Sep 25-Oct 21) at the Laguna Playhouse.

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