Theatre Reviews : ‘Wives of Windsor,’ Minus Merriness : The amateur Irvine Community production fails to reach even the shallow heights that the Bard intended.


“The Merry Wives of Windsor” generally is seen as one of the slimmest comedies in Shakespeare’s folio; it’s little more than a romp. A fat knight tries to seduce a couple of women, resulting in countrified shenanigans, and that’s about it.

The play does have Sir John Falstaff, though, and that is no small distinction. As lusty and foolish as any of Shakespeare’s characters, Falstaff has become a favorite with Bardophiles over the years, and a great performance of this role can raise any production of “Merry Wives” above the ordinary.

Too bad that doesn’t happen with the Irvine Community Theater’s staging, which plays outdoors this weekend at two city parks.

Ed Steneck gives the portly Falstaff bluster and bravado, but he lacks the kind of tilted charisma that can make the character such a hoot to watch. He doesn’t get much help, either. Director Art Winslow can’t keep the pace from flagging, and there’s just not enough zest in the interactions between Falstaff, his objects of desire Mistress Page (La Donna de Barros) and Mistress Ford (Mary Benton), and the assorted other sillies who populate the comedy.


Indeed, most of the cast is disappointing. De Barros, however, generates some smiles, if only because her buxom Page is so befuddled as to be endearing, and Joel Ibanez shows talent as Mistress Ford’s husband.

But this is an amateur production in the strictest sense, and the lack of a healthy budget figures in everything from the mix-and-match costumes (an odd combination of period outfits and what looks like thrift-store accessories, including an assortment of clown wigs) to the almost bare set. For atmosphere, there are only a few painted boxes and a screen for the cast to maneuver around and behind.

At least the price is right: “Merry Wives” is the latest offering in the theater’s third annual “Shakespeare Under the Sun” program, in which the audience is asked to pay only what it can. All donations help fund the theater’s regular season.

* “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” Saturday at Turtle Rock Community Park, Turtle Rock Drive and Sunnyhill Road, Irvine, and Sunday at Heritage Park, Yale and Walnut avenues, Irvine. 2 p.m. Ends Sunday. Admission by donation. (714) 857-5496. Running time: 2 hours, 50 minutes.



Ed Steneck: Sir John Falstaff

Aaron Abrams: Fenton

Steven Bernsten: Shallow

Jorge Medina: Slender

Joel Ibanez: Ford

Dan Gonzalez: Page

Warren Harker: Sir Hugh Evans


Vijay Anand: Doctor Caius

Karla Abrams: hostess

Jonathan Paine: Bardolph

Vanessa de Barros: Pistol

Henry Bohrman: Nym

Jennifer Gonzalez: Rugby/Robin

Wayne Mayberry: Simple

Mary Benton: Mistress Ford


La Donna de Barros: Mistress Page

Wendi de Barros: Anne Page

Lorraine McWilliams: Mistress Quickly

An Irvine Community Theater production of a comedy by William Shakespeare, directed by Art Winslow. Costumes: Lorraine McWilliams. Stage manager: Laura Mathur.