According to legend, Queen Elizabeth I was so taken with Falstaff in Henry IV that she ordered Shakespeare to write another play depicting the Fat Knight in love — and she gave him two weeks to do it. The result is as close as the Swan of Avon ever came to being the Elizabethan Neil Simon. The play has always been a crowd pleaser, and so it is here. This production is set in Middle America (Dean Cameron's handsomely painted set suggests the Great Plains). Falstaff (Archie Lee Simpson) is depicted as an aging, impecunious hip-hop artist, in a flashy salmon-colored suit. He sets out to seduce two respectable married women, Mistress Ford and Mistress Page (Susan Foley and Heather Roop), and gets a triple comeuppance for his pains. Peter Leake contributes the most stylish performance, as Mrs. Ford's maniacally jealous husband, and Saundra McClain shines as the universal go-between Mistress Quickly. Spike Steingasser is the amiable but dim Welsh parson, and Joseph A. Cincotti is the choleric French doctor who's hell-bent on marrying Page's daughter (Victoria Engelmeyer) and her substantial dowry. Director Dennis Gersten gives the piece a brisk, broad, not overly subtle production.
Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Starts: Jan. 18. Continues through March 2, 2008

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