NEW PORT RICHEY — Downtown will be dappled with Elizabethan sunshine today through Sunday as the third annual Shakespeare by the River festival takes place.
The event includes Shakespeare-based films, Elizabethan-era re-enactors, a birds of prey show, discussions of Shakespeare and his relatives, and music.
The heart of the festival, though, is what most scholars consider William Shakespeare's greatest play — the greatest play ever written in the English language, for that matter — the tragedy Hamlet.
A shortened version of the four-hour play will be performed by a 13-member cast at 7 tonight and Saturday at Richey Suncoast Theatre, 6237 Grand Blvd. (open seating) and at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in the amphitheater in Sims Park (take chairs or blankets for seating).
"I edited it down; shorter is better, especially for younger people," said Angela Sarabia, who is directing the play. The presentations at the indoor theater will be less than 21/2 hours long, with intermission. The outdoor matinee will be performed without an intermission and will be less than two hours long, she said.
Set in Denmark around the year 700, the play has young Prince Hamlet (Bill Olson) grieving over the recent death of his father, the king, and upset that his mother, Gertrude (Kristy Smithwick), has agreed to marry his uncle Claudius (Jim Poe) so soon after his father's passing.
Hamlet's erratic behavior upsets Polonius (Abbott R. Morgan), the king's adviser and father of the beautiful Ophelia (Ms. Sarabia), Hamlet's beloved.
Tensions mount as Hamlet sees his father's ghost, the ghost tells him that he was murdered by King Claudius, and Hamlet seems to go crazy.
Polonius orders Ophelia to stay away from Hamlet, Hamlet accidentally kills Polonius, and King Claudius, realizing that Hamlet knows of his murderous guilt, orders Hamlet to go to England, carrying a sealed letter telling the English king to murder him.
Hamlet opens the letter, discovers what is going on and goes back to the Danish castle, where King Claudius is still plotting to murder him.
Meanwhile, a distraught Ophelia has drowned, and her brother Laertes (Bryan Sarabia) challenges Hamlet to a duel.
To ensure that Hamlet dies, King Claudius poisons both the tip of the rapier Laertes is going to use in the duel and a glass of wine to give to Hamlet.
The whole setup is a recipe for tragedy for the innocent as well as the evil.
The play is being dedicated to Meghan Grey, who was cast as Ophelia but was killed in an automobile wreck in mid March. Ms. Sarabia stepped in to do the role after Ms. Grey's death.
Saturday is filled with other activities related to Shakespeare, both in Sims Park and at the Queen of Peace Hall just north of the park.
Between 10 a.m. and 2:30 p.m., a bird trainer/handler from Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park will present "Amazing Birds of Prey," a demonstration of trained birds.
In addition, a dozen members of the Society for Creative Anachronisms will give historically accurate and costumed re-enactments of sword fights at their encampment between the amphitheater and the Cotee River and chat with festivalgoers about the era.
In Queen of Peace Hall, there will be a fine arts show from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. At 11 a.m., scholars will discuss writer Virginia Woolf's extended essay, A Room of One's Own, wherein she imagines that Shakespeare had a sister named Judith who had equal talents but never gained recognition because she was female.
The Pasco Collegium Recorder Consort will perform at 1:30 p.m. in the hall.
One thing the festival won't have is the usual rows of food vendors.
"We'll have one or two booths with beverages and light snacks," said Charlie Skelton, a member of the Shakespeare committee and president of the Richey Suncoast board of directors.
"We want to encourage people who are coming to see the plays to eat at the fine restaurants we have here in New Port Richey," he said. They include Juan's Black Bean Cafe, Vincenzo's Italian Ristorante and Thai Bistro, all within walking distance of Sims Park and the theater, as well as theater sponsor Leaning Tower of Pizza at Grand Boulevard and Mariner Parkway.
The Grand, Boulevard Beef and Ale, Christina's (6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.), Jimmy's Boulevard Restaurant, Main Street Grill and Fitzgerald's Irish Pub are also nearby.
On Sunday, the New Port Richey Library will present modern versions of four of Shakespeare's plays produced by BBC, the Shakey Film Fest:
Noon: A Midsummer Night's Dream.
2 p.m.: Taming of the Shrew.
4 p.m.: Macbeth.
6 p.m.: Much Ado About Nothing.
Each movie is 90 minutes long.