“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.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
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.