The Love Boat bartender docks in Aurora with new theater production Saturday

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AURORA | Don’t go searching for “Love Boat” nostalgia in a Ted Lange play.

Lange, 71,  knows he is still best known for his tenure as Isaac Washington, the bartender equally dispensing mai tais and dating advice on the 1970s TV series known for corny goofs and romantic kerfuffles.

After the series ended in 1986, however, Lange looked forward – outpacing the post-peak career ennui experienced by some actors – by embracing playwriting. He said he’s written 27 plays to date, including “The Tears of Shylock”, an ambitious back-story of a character in a William Shakespeare play premiering Saturday night at 7 p.m. in Aurora’s Vintage Theater.

Well, sort of.

The performance is so far just a reading, Lange told The Sentinel, and Denver-area actors were just cast Thursday.

You may be asking: Why would Ted Lange , of all people, parachute into Aurora for a few days to direct a reading of a Shakespeare-inspired play?

You’re not alone. Vintage Theater Artistic Director Bernie Cardell said it is not uncommon at all for out-of-state artists to drop in like this without a fully-finished production.

Lange may be impulsive, but he’s not out-of-touch. In fact, he has deep roots in the metro area’s local theater. He would frequent Aurora’s Shadow Theatre, a prominent black-owned theater company, and developed a friendship with founder Jeffrey Nickelson before his tragic death in 2009.

Through his friendship with a local prop designer, Lange came back to Aurora in recent years to stage a reading at the Vintage Theater – whose main stage is named for Nickelson.

This time around, Lange will be directing and performing in a reading of his play The Tears of Shylock, which tells the story of the Jewish money lender and villain from his own perspective.

Lange is no stranger to Shakespeare, having acted in many adaptations from an early age (before Isaac Washington was even scripted) and he’s comfortable critiquing outdated modes of thinking in The Bard’s work: Namely, the Jewish stereotypes he said are written deep into “The Merchant of Venice”.

In the comedy, Shylock is characterized by greed and his lust for revenge before he is redeemed by converting to Christianity. He’s been viewed as a symbol of the devil himself in critiques, contrasted with symbols of the Virgin Mary.

It’s a racist and dehumanizing characterization, Lange said, so he stepped in to write Shylock’s perspective and offer context. He spoke passionately about correcting the record.

For example, he noted that Jews had been banished from living in England for several centuries before Shakespeare wrote the play, forcing him to rely on warped stereotypes. And in 16th-century Venice, he said – the setting of “The Merchant of Venice” – Jews were mostly confined to money lending and forced to live in a giant ghetto bounded by an iron gate, locked every night.

Lange’s perspective on Shylock is heavily informed by concerns with current American politics, especially the Trump administration policy of separating children from their parents at the southern border last summer.

It’s all the same tactic of “demonizing” people, he said.

“That’s an old game, and when you see my play you start to see – they’ve reinvented the game, but the game is still the same,” he said of government leaders. “I draw parallels from 1575 Venice to America.”

With “The Tears of Shylock”, Lange is crusading to set the record straight on a maligned character. He’s also adamant that it’s not all doom and gloom in the script: there’s ample laughs, and he thinks attendants will have an entertaining evening Saturday night at the Vintage.

The reading will be free, but a $5 donation is suggested to pay the actors, Lange said. Next, the play will be staged in Los Angeles and New York.

With this piece, Lange’s thinking is clearly more relevant to 2018 than 1977, when “The Love Boat” premiered.  Even so, some habits are hard to kick. Lange said he’s only in town until Monday, when he’ll fly back to Los Angeles, but he added that no visit to Denver is complete without Sunday brunch at the historic Brown Palace hotel.

It’s also a romantic spot for a date, and added: Just remember to tell the waiter Isaac, the bartender from “The Love Boat”, sent you.