THE BEAUX' STRATAGEM, Powertap Theater Company, at the National Pastime Theater. Anglo-Irish playwright George Farquhar's 1707 play has aged pretty well. Though much of the "keen satire" promised in the prologue has withered with time--Farquhar's references to the War of the Spanish Succession flew over all our heads--this lighthearted, heavily plotted romance is still amusing. Sure, the character names sound corny to contemporary ears: a comely maid is named Cherry, an unhappy wife is Mrs. Sullen, and the story's two young gallants are Archer and Aimwell. But the dialogue is crisp and witty, and the plot--about two pairs of lovers who end up together despite incredible complications--is just complex enough to keep us guessing.
Ned Mochel's simple, unpretentious production never gets in the way of Farquhar's words, though not everyone in the cast understands the difference between acting funny and being funny. Steven J. Rose in particular, playing a country bumpkin, makes Jerry Lewis seem subtle, and even the usually terrific Elizabeth Laidlaw lays it on a bit thick as the comely wench. But in general Mochel's lead characters understand how to play Farquhar's comedy; Peter Greenberg and John Neisler are particularly fine as the two roguish heroes. And Krista Lally is killing as Mrs. Sullen.
The real star, though, is the magnificent fight scene Mochel stages near the end. But what else would you expect from the man who directed Powertap's exciting early-90s homage to stage combat, Night at the Fights? --Jack Helbig