Poor Sir John Falstaff.
He just can't catch a break in The Merry Wives of Windsor.
And, as the play illustrates, it's of his own doing.
Merry Wives will be performed Thursdays through Sundays for the rest of this month, concluding Aug. 31, by Actors' Theatre of Columbus. All plays begin at 8 p.m. at the amphitheater in Schiller Park, 1069 Jaeger St. They are free and open to the public.
The paunchy, aging Falstaff strolls into Windsor down on his luck and short of money. So he hatches a plan to woo two wealthy married women by sending them identical love letters.
Falstaff's plot is uncovered early, and the two women -- Mistress Ford and Mistress Page -- put him through a series of compromising and humiliating situations. Eventually letting their husbands in on the secret, they plan one final action to spurn their portly suitor.
Indeed it is a demeaning state of affairs, but Falstaff brushes it off with gentle good humor and accepts his misfortune. Alas, the wives and their scheming entourage are ultimately forgiving and invite Falstaff to join them in the evening's festivities.
Falstaff is one of the most beloved Shakespearean characters of all time, said John Kuhn, artistic director of Actors' Theatre. He also appeared in the Bard's earlier works, Henry IV parts I and II.
Adam Simon is playing the role of Falstaff for the first time.
"The role itself is fairly challenging because this character walks this narrow line," Simon said. "You can't stand him because he's such a self-serving sleazebag, but you can't help but love him. And that's a hard line to walk."
According to legend, Queen Elizabeth was so absorbed by Falstaff that she asked Shakespeare to make him the subject of a play.
"He is a liar, he is a womanizer and yet he's brilliant," Kuhn said. "He is just an engaging, vibrant, full-of-life character who has charmed and entranced audiences for centuries. And it's not because he's a nice guy."
Merry Wives is the second Shakespeare play performed by Actors' Theatre this season.
The troupe opened with Hamlet and just finished its performance of Barber of Seville, written by Pierre Beaumarchais. Merry Wives will close out the theater company's 33rd season at Schiller Park. However, the group will perform The Hound of the Baskervilles Sept. 5-14 at Columbus Commons.