Lange holds all the cards

`Love Boat' actor now directs and writes plays such as `Four Queens, No Trump'

October 18, 2007|By Aaron Chester | Aaron Chester,Sun reporter

Ted Lange may be known by the masses as Isaac the bartender from the television show The Love Boat -- and he acknowledges that this is often his calling card -- but he no longer calls himself an actor.

Today, after directing and writing for television and more than 20 plays, Lange considers himself an artist.

"Love Boat has opened the doors and made it possible," Lange said. "Once the door is opened, it comes down to my talent. If I fall down from that, I have a problem."

Today, it is rare to find Lange without a screenplay at his fingertips; he has been writing periodically since he moved to Los Angeles in the 1970s.

Lange's Four Queens, No Trump premiered in 1997 and has been performed in black theater companies across the country. Four Queens returns to Arena Players this weekend after being presented as a reading there three years ago.

Four Queens, No Trump was sparked after Lange attended a black feminist's play for younger viewers in L.A. Two women approached him during intermission and asked him if he could write such a play for women older than 40 that they could act in, which got him to thinking.

He decided to write a comedic play about four women playing bid whist. Each woman, he said, is represented by a suit of cards. The wealthy woman is the queen of diamonds, the romance-seeking woman is the queen of hearts, the "ultimate black woman" is the queen of spades, and the woman whose house they play at is the queen of clubs.

"You'll see some stuff I should know nothing about, but women and actresses told me some things I implemented [in the play] with comedy," Lange said. "The question becomes, does you life end at 35? Is there a story to tell? Of course there is."

The play follows the weekly card game of these longtime friends as they talk about all aspects of life.

Lange, who hopes to attend the play again this year, said Arena, because of its often-religious audience, was initially a little skeptical of the production's language. Though the response to the reading three years ago was positive, he remembers one woman who was offended by the language. Because it's a comedy, Lange said, the language simply reflects reality and is necessary. The objecting woman, he said, was also laughing.

"To me, the job of a playwright is to explore and bring to light our lives," Lange said. "You can't hold back; you have to give in to this. Sometimes, you say things people don't want to hear."

But, Lange said, "It's a wonderful evening of theater. Women get validated on the point of who they are, and men learn about women. My forte is, I like women. I wanted to write in the voice of a woman, and that was my challenge. I didn't want people to know a man wrote this."

The play, he says, is intended for black audiences, although other people can get a lot of insight into black culture from it.

Among numerous current projects, Lange is writing historical plays from the black perspective. One, called George Washington's Boy, is about Washington's slave and confidant, who is unknown to many, he said.

In his lectures at schools around the country, the NAACP Renaissance Man Theatre Award winner remains humbled. He emphasizes to students that regardless of where and to whom a play is being performed, one's all must always be put into it. Lange's expectations for Four Queens, No Trump are no different.

"I'd like to leave people with a good laugh, some wonderful performances, and some insight into black American culture," he said.

"Four Queens, No Trump" will be performed at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 4 p.m. Sundays through Nov. 4 at Arena Players Inc., 801 McCulloh St. Tickets are $10-$15. Call 410-728-6500 or go to missiontix.com.

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