One of William Shakespeare's favorite comedies, Much Ado About Nothing, will continue the tradition of the Shakespeare by the River festival, with free presentations at 8 tonight and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday at Richey Suncoast Theatre.
The festival started in 2006 with musicians, poetry readings, actors in period costume, sword fights, films set in the Elizabethan era and food vendors, with the centerpiece a play by or about the Bard every year since.
The lagging economy has whittled all that hoopla down to just the play, but it hasn't lessened the organizers' enthusiasm for Shakespeare and his works.
Even with none of the funding from New Port Richey and area businesses that paid for previous festivals, Richey Suncoast board president Charlie Skelton still feels fortunate.
First of all, some theater volunteers sorting out old costumes in the storage area ran across a treasure trove of Elizabethan-style costumes under an old clothes rack.
"These are beautiful, professionally made costumes," Skelton said.
Second, Shakespeare is in the public domain, so there's no licensing fees to pay, nor any need to work with the playwright to pare down the lengthy play to a more manageable length of two hours.
That left the major challenge to find actors, and Skelton said that director Brian Sarabia was lucky there, too.
Two-time HAMI Award-winning actor W. Paul Wade plays the major role of Benedick, with experienced actor-director Angela Sarabia as his (eventual) beloved, Beatrice.
The story is set in 16th century Sicily at the spacious villa of the governor of Messina, Leonato (Brandon Cox). Also at the villa are Leonato's only daughter Hero (Dakota Blake) and his clever niece Beatrice (Sarabia).
The play opens as the Italian prince Don Pedro (Mitch Gonzalez), his bastard half-brother Don John (Patrick Gonzalez), the soldiers Claudio (Bill Olson) and Benedick (Wade), and several others are passing through on their way home after a battle.
Claudio rekindles a previous romance with Hero, and the two decide to marry in a week, to the delight of all.
The treacherous, jealous Don John, however, vows to break up the happy pair and cause as much trouble as he can.
Meanwhile, Don Pedro and the other soldiers amuse themselves by trying to hatch a romance between the marriage-shy Benedick and the reluctant Beatrice.
Don John does his treachery, with the help of his buddy Borrachio (Anthony Markum) and Borrachio's sweetheart Margaret (Shelby Speegle). The result is that at the wedding, Claudio accuses Hero of infidelity and calls it off.
But Friar Francis (Jared Shari) comes up with a trick to smooth it all out, with the help of Antonio (Marc Yacht), Leonato's brother.
They're inadvertently aided by one of Shakespeare's favorite characters, the grand constable Dogberry (Mickey McNabb), who unwittingly reveals the evil Don John's plot.
"I cannot say enough good things about the people involved in this production," director Brian Sarabia said. "Every member of the cast has thrown themselves into his or her role, and the result is a show that I am proud to have been a part of."