As founder Lisa Coffi recently noted, her Shakespeare by the Sea is for the common folk, who tend to show up more for the big names in the Bard’s canon. So she expects a big turnout this summer, what with Romeo & Juliet’s being one of the two plays touring SoCal this summer.

Although R&J doesn’t open until this weekend, if this past Saturday’s attendance for the lesser-known Much Ado About Nothing is any indication, Coffi’s last go-round (she’s retiring after 25 years) will be huge, because in the decade or so I’ve been getting out to Point Fermin for the shows, never have I seen a bigger crowd — nor a happier one.

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In case you don’t know (Much Ado has become more popular over the last 30 years thanks partly to film versions by Kenneth Branagh and Joss Whedon, but it’s still nowhere near Shakespeare’s ten most popular), after a successful military campaign, Don Pedro (Brendan Kane) brings his men home to Messina. Among them are young Claudio (Mateo Mpinduzi-Mott), who loves the governor of Messina’s daughter Hero (Talma Quipse); the merrily acerbic Benedick (Ryan Knight), who loves being a bachelor and making sport of the smitten; and Don Pedro’s bastard brother Don John (Edward Moravcsik), who loves only discord. Plots of good and ill nature intersect, and there’s much darkness before the dawn.

Whatever nuance and subtlety can be mined from Much Ado, the park is not the best place to dig, and Shakespeare by the Sea doesn’t really try. Rather, from the slo-mo arrival of Don Pedro and co. to the strains of Harold Faltermeyer’s “Top Gun Anthem”, it’s the yuks they prize — and there’s gold in them thar hills. Knight plays Benedick like an adolescent in the throes of a voice-drop as he changes his tune on bachelorhood, which is an amusing juxtaposition to his wit; and the scheme to make him and his opposite number Beatrice (Melissa Alison Green) fall for each other comes off with slapstick aplenty. Dances are silly, Dogberry (Connor Dugard) brings the comic relief, and the entire cast plays the 17th-century jibes broadly enough to that groundlings catch their fair share.

That’s really the big takeaway from this show: from start to finish, it connects to the audience. This colorful Much Ado About Nothing, and Shakespeare by the Sea in general, may not be for purists and academics. But that was never the idea. Coffi and her many colleagues over the last quarter-century have consistently aimed to bring one of history’s great literary geniuses and his often arcane, archaic language home to today’s masses.

Mission accomplished.

Much Ado About Nothing returns to Point Fermin Park (807 W. Paseo Del Mar, San Pedro) July 7, 9, and August 6 at 8 p.m. As always, cost is free (donations gratefully accepted). Romeo & Juliet opens at Point Fermin this Thursday–Saturday. For more dates, locations (ranging from Aliso Viejo to Beverly Hills), and details, visit ShakespeareByTheSea.org or call (310) 217-7596