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Eckerd troupe presents "Princess and the Pea'

The kingdom is in a tizzy. The queen of the realm has decided it is time for her son, the prince, to marry. The problem is finding a bride who is worthy of her beloved son.

To make sure that the bride-to-be is sensitive and tender, the queen puts a pea under the mattress of all the young women who come to the castle to meet the prince. The first one who is so fragile that she is able to discern that there is a pea under the mattress will be worthy to marry the prince.

That's the story of Hans Christian Andersen's classic fairy tale, The Princess and the Pea.

The dramatic version, as interpreted by the Eckerd Theatre Company, will be presented _ free to everyone _ at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Center for the Arts at River Ridge Middle/High School.

In a modern twist on the old story, the Eckerd Theater Company sets the story in a pea-packing plant.

Gertie, a pea-packer, is hit on the head by a falling can of peas. She wakes in the Land of Peabody just in time to compete in a contest for the prince's hand in marriage.

The contest has many criteria: beauty, ability to cook, grace and tenderness _ tenderness inside, outside and in the heart.

The River Ridge presentation will be one of many in Florida by the Eckerd Theater Company. Since 1989, the troupe has performed for more than 200,000 young people, their teachers and parents.

Artistic director is Julia A. Flood, who was formerly with American Stage in St. Petersburg, Florida Studio Theatre and Asolo Center for the Performing Arts in Sarasota, among other venues.

Among the cast are Tisza Cher-rie Evans, a native of Alabama; Jennifer Langford, a former music teacher; Melody Craven-Heinz, an instructor at Eckerd Hall and Tampa Academy of Performing Arts; Richard Heintz, a veteran performer from Chicago; and Brad Brady, a professional actor who plans to enter the teaching profession after college.