The money-bereft Shakespeare Summer Festival is proving that much delightful ado can be made with almost nothing.

Ellie Chamberlin, who lost this year's National Park Service contract for Shakespeare-in-the-Sylvan Theater after two decades, has gathered several veterans and new faces and is staging "Much Ado About Nothing."

It is an engaging production that catches the wit and high spirits of this sunny Shakespeare comedy. There are handsome costumes for the cast (drawn from the troupe's wardrobe stockpiled over the years). The set, with the help of a local garden center, uses a few stone benches and greenery to recreate a villa garden that allows a free flow of quick scene changes.

The most unfortunate thing about the production is the short run. The last four performances, with free admission, are scheduled for 8:30 p.m. tonight through Saturday in the chapel at Mount Vernon College, Foxhall Road and W Street NW.

Much of the charm of Shakespeare's play lies in the merry war of wit and words between Beatrice and Benedick, both of whom mock love and, of course, are shot down by Cupid in the end. And then there are the wild puns and verbal and logical contortions of Dogberry, the pompous constable, who insists that it be written down that he has been called, quite properly, an ass.

Tim O'Hare and Patricia Procaccino make a well-matched pair of verbal adversaries as Beatrice and Benedick. With a mocking mischievousness, she "speaks poniards and every word stabs." O'Hare, the strapping former college quarterback who also has played Petruchio and the Oberon-Theseus dual role in previous productions, is a mirthful Benedick, poking fun at lovesick friends until Cupid's arrow reduces him to writing silly sonnets.

Not even a sparkling Beatrice-Benedick duo can outshine Jim Bostain's marvelous, inventive Dogberry. He is the embodiment of witless pomposity as the self-important constable who abuses language and logic.

Others in the cast contribute to the fun of "Much Ado." George Williamson, sporting an imposing handlebar mustache, is an entertaining Don Pedro, carrying on with comic e'lan as the prince-gallant who delights in the deception to ensnare Beatrice and Benedick. The role of Claudio, the lovesick youth so hasty to condemn his betrothed, isn't an easy one, but Robert Fass makes him almost likable. Merry Rozzelle brings spirit and girlish humor to another rather thankless role as Hero, the colorless foil to Beatrice. Jim Byrnes is fine as Leonato, a father ready to condemn his daughter on the words of two gentlemen. Richard Smith could be a bit more insinuating as the villain of the piece. Other members of the cast are David Voight, Michael Jay Johnson, Willie Herndon, Vincent Brown, L. C. (Pete) Holm, Bill Sullivan, Frances Madeson, Mary Lou Walton, Peter Chewning and Michael Monroney.

"Much Ado" is performed without intermission. And it is a tribute to the crisp pace that the audience remained intent without any sign of restlessness at last Saturday's performance. Chamberlin, as director, makes imaginative use of the chapel's upraised pulpit to use a two-level stage setting for nonstop scenes.