Live Active Cultures 

Maybe you're poor. Maybe you're forgetful. Maybe you're a cheap, lazy, unfeeling bastard. Whatever the reason, Valentine's Day is right around the corner and you haven't done a damn thing for your darling yet. Every restaurant better than Burger King is already booked; the only jewelry you can afford comes in a plastic egg; and even the roadside rose truck rejected your Visa. What hope have you of a V-Day happy ending in this inert economy?

Fear not, fellow hapless romantic: I hear you, I'm here for you, I may even be you. So here's my secret: The arts are the most cost-effective path to your sweetheart's heart, short of a spork through the sternum. There's a wealth of free or cheap artistic activities to take your special someone to this weekend, and any of them will score you many more romance points than a return trip to Pandora (even if it is in IMAX-3D). 

Kick off your Valentine's weekend early with Orlando Shakespeare Theater's Sonnet-a-thon. Local celebrities, politicians, business people and arts supporters will gather in downtown's Plaza Courtyard (11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday, Feb. 12), reading aloud all 154 of Shakespeare's sonnets. Participants include Orange County Mayor Rich Crotty, Sen. Bill Nelson and the Orlando Sentinel's Elizabeth Maupin. (I, oddly, was not invited.) Bring a sandwich, and be sure to snicker at your social betters' mispronunciations.

If that whets your appetite for more theater, take note of the flood of shows opening around town this weekend. While Orlando Shakes' All's Well That Ends Well joins Hamlet in its continuing run in repertory rotation, Orlando Theatre Project shares the Shakes' Goldman Theater for a one-weekend production of John Cariani's midwinter marriage comedy, Almost, Maine. This, sadly, will be the final show from OTP, which for 24 years was one of the area's most prominent Actors' Equity theater companies. It's folding for financial reasons, and for the final bow director Jim Howard has assembled a who's who from OTP's past, including Darby Ballard, Ryan Gigliotti, Mark Lainer, Philip Nolen, Krista Pigott, T. Robert Pigott, Eric Pinder and Richard Width.

A few Seventh-day Adventist—owned blocks away, Theatre Downtown opens The Fantasticks (Feb. 12-March 13), the Tom Jones—Harvey Schmidt "timeless fable of love," whose original New York run ranks as the longest-running musical in the world. Aaron Babcock directs Wesley Speed and Lorelei Sandberg as the star-crossed couple separated by scheming fathers. Or, if you have a few more gallons in the car's tank, Rollins College rolls out Paula Vogel's coming-of-age drama How I Learned to Drive at the Annie Russell Theatre (Feb. 12-20), which makes for a less-than-ideal date night if your intended is an incestuous pedophile. Big spenders with E-Passes can consider Beth Marshall Presents' production of Driving Miss Daisy at Winter Garden's Garden Theatre (Feb. 12-28), starring Elizabeth T. Murff, Michael Mormon and Michael Lane; it's an ideal date night if your intended is an adorably racist octogenarian.

But what if even paying 20-something bucks for theater tickets is out of your price range? First, I would say that you should be saving your pennies for prophylactics; were you to get lucky this week thanks to my romantic recommendations, the last thing I'd want on my conscience is your broke ass reproducing. Having said that, I've got two sure-fire options that needn't cost a dime. The eighth annual Orlando Folk Festival, always one of my favorite events of the year, returns to the Mennello Museum of American Art Saturday and Sunday (Feb. 13 and 14). The shores of Lake Formosa will again fill with live music, craft makers and art vendors. A few bucks will buy you a burger and a beer; bring a blanket and camp out all afternoon. 

Then at sunset take that blanket down to Winter Park's Central Park for Enzian's free outdoor screening of Love Story, the 1970 Ali MacGraw—Ryan O'Neal weeper that shamelessly manipulated millions into spouting stupid sayings like "Love means never having to say you're sorry." (Anyone who is married knows the opposite is true.) Still, nothing's more conducive to snuggling than a good sob; for extra emotional impact, mention that the screenplay's author, Erich Segal, died last month, a mere 40-plus years after hanging out with his all-American inspirations for Oliver Barrett IV: Al Gore and his Harvard roommate, Tommy Lee Jones. (An inconvenient coincidence? I think not.) And if Love Story doesn't make your beloved melt, well … at least the complimentary popcorn is hot.


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