A couple of familiar stars from ‘70s and ‘80s TV comedy series bring their talents to Pompano Beach this weekend for two stage performances of James Graham Bronson’s whimsical play, Willie & Esther.
Ted Lange, best known for his role as Isaac Washington, the bartender on “The Love Boat,” and BerNadette Stanis, who gained fame as teenage daughter Thelma Evans in the sitcom, “Good Times,” portray two middle-aged African American lovers fantasizing about robbing a bank. Performances are scheduled Saturday, March 26 at 7 p.m. and Sunday, March 27 at 3 p.m. at the Pompano Beach Cultural Center, 50 Atlantic Ave.
Lange, who acts and directs TV shows and performs on stage, has also written more than two dozen plays. Stanis still stars in a television show and has written four books. They will also present three workshops in addition to appearing in the on-stage show this weekend.
Their workshops include:
Live on the Set: Thursday, March 24, 7-9 p.m., free. The event includes a screening of a “Love Boat” episode at 7:15 p.m. followed by an interview and audience Q&A with Ted Lange. “Love Boat” aired from 1977 to 1987 on ABC.
Live on the Set: Friday, March 25, 7-9 p.m., free. This event includes a screening of an episode of “Good Times” followed by an interview and audience Q&A with BernNadette Stanis, who played Thelma on the sitcom that aired from 1974 to 1979.
Writing the Play—Master Class with Ted Lange, Tuesday, March 29 from 6 to 9 p.m., $65. Actor, playwright and director Ted Lange will conduct a playwriting class.
BerNadette Stanis and Ted Lange will appear in the play, Willie and Esther, Saturday and Sunday at the Pompano Beach Cultural Center.
“Willie & Esther premiered in 1987 at the Inner City Cultural Center in Los Angeles and won first place at the center’s first short-play competition, beating out more than 100 other plays from around the US,” said Phyllis Korab, cultural affairs director at the Pompano Center. “Since then, the play has had many successful stagings, including an acclaimed Off-Broadway run.”
A graduate of London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, Lange has gained worldwide attention as an actor on stage and screen, a director and prolific writer. He has written 25 plays and directed three Shakespearean productions.
In an interview, Lange said he has reprised his character of Isaac, the “Love Boat” bartender several times. He said the show’s cast “was very, very funny. We enjoyed each other’s sense of humor.”
That show featured a number of guest stars, from established actors like Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Ginger Rogers, to newcomers (at the time) such as Tom Hanks and Martin Short. Commenting on the latter, Lange said: “You could tell these people were going to be something.”
He even recalled a potential romantic TV encounter he had with a young Janet Jackson on an episode that was actually filmed while at sea. Lange said a youthful Michael J. Fox also appeared in an episode that he wrote.
“One time, the guests were supposed to be The Beach Boys,” Lange recalled. “They couldn’t make it, so The Temptations came on. And I didn’t get into any of the scenes!”
Stanis, a graduate of the Juilliard School, said the series “Good Times” starring Esther Rolle and John Amos, “helped my career because I was the first Black female teenager on TV. I represented a positive image for young Black girls and young girls all over the world to follow. The young men of color said they wanted to have a girlfriend like Thelma Evans.”
“Today, I remain very close to all the remaining cast members, Jimmie [Walker], Ralph [Carter] and John Amos. I was also very close to Johnny Brown who recently passed; Ja’Net Dubois and Janet Jackson. Also, I was close to Esther. I called her my Hollywood mom, so we were very close.”
Stanis currently appears “on a television show called ‘The Family Business.’ I joined the cast as Nee Nee Duncan in their fourth season. You can watch it on BET plus.”
As to acting and writing, she said she “loves both equally, for different reasons. It’s all the same creative expression extended in a different form of the Arts. I was a dancer before I was an actor or writer. I still dance, it is my love of artistic expression.
She said she’d love to continue performing in Willie and Esther. “This is a wonderfully written play. It looks very simple to perform but it is very complicated to perform it. The messages are brilliant. James Graham Bronson is a wonderful playwright.”
A Massachusetts native who moved to Florida in 2000, he is a graduate of Northeastern University in Boston, with honors degrees in English and Journalism. In New England, he worked for the Attleboro (Mass.) Sun Chronicle and the Pawtucket (R.I.) Times, the latter for 28 years. After moving to Florida, he worked as a copy editor at the Palm Beach Daily News, and, in 2001, became a reporter and later, city editor, at the Boca
Raton News where he worked for eight years.