Guns, God, and Slavery Collide on Stage in Ted Lange’s New Play

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Ted Lange premiered his new play, The Journals of Osborne P. Anderson, at Theatre/Theater in the Mid-Wilshire neighborhood last week. Lange is best known for his role as Isaac on The Love Boat, but has been in almost 70 movies and TV shows with credits that range from Black Belt Jones to Othello. Lange has worked in Los Angeles theater for decades, producing and acting like his father, who was a star of the Ebony Showcase Theater during the 1950s.

His last three productions have been true stories from history, meticulously researched dramas torn from 19th century headlines. The new show is about the raid on Harper’s Ferry, white abolitionist preacher John Brown’s unsuccessful attempt to provoke a slave rebellion just 18 months before the start of the Civil War.

Lange traveled to the West Virginia locations he writes about to better understand the story, and his dedication to accuracy helped me understand such a complex moment in the American saga. Brown fails to recruit Frederic Douglass, but enlists 25-year-old free black man John Copeland (a standout Boise Holmes) in the cause.

Lange makes terrific use of the unusual venue, creating almost half a dozen stages in the small theater. The use of blackouts and freeze frame for fight scenes was dramatic and cinematic, and something I don’t remember seeing in a play before.

It was fun to spot Garrett Morris from Saturday Night Live and Lange’s Love Boat co-stars Bernie Kopell and Jill Whelan in the audience. Maybe the comedy stars disarmed me for the intensity of the show. Dozens of raiders, marines, and civilians are killed during the attack and terrible violence is alluded to throughout the performance. Kudos to Lange for taking on subject matter from 150 years ago and making it immediate, real, and dangerous.

 

The Journals of Osborne P. Anderson runs through June 28th at Theatre/Theater, 5041 West Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90010

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