"MUCH ADO About Hamlet" takes the stuffiness out of Shakespeare, sending young audiences back to a time when live theater was the form of entertainment for everyone.

Simply staged at the Smithsonian's Discovery Theater, this original production, written and directed by Michael Tolaydo of the Shakespeare Theater at the Folger, entertains and informs about the theater with several scenes from Shakespeare's Greatest Hits.

Young Helen and her brother John, a street juggler, go to the Globe Theater to audition for Shakespeare himself. There's a rub: All the women's roles were played by men in Shakespeare's day, so Helen disguises herself as a boy to get the part -- one of Shakespeare's own favorite plot twists.

Helen (Susan DeVany) auditions for the funny, fussy Bard (T.G. Finkbinder), and, with some coaching from the author, she plays Juliet in the balcony scene from "Romeo and Juliet," joining Shakespeare's leading actor, Richard Burbage, played with energy by Douglas Donaldson.

Brother John (Nick Newlin) juggles some flaming torches, among other things, while reciting Hamlet's "To be or not to be" soliloquy. Shakespeare decides he can find a part for him in his next play.

The show painlessly slips in some definitions of theatrical terms, such as auditions, rehearsal, box office, advertising, scripts and printing; discusses the roles of playwright and actor; and mentions such historical matters of interest as bearbaiting, the Plague and codpieces.

"Much Ado About Hamlet" is recommended for grades four to eight. Shows at the Discovery Theater in the Smithsonian's Arts and Industries Building (900 Jefferson Drive SW) are Tuesday through Friday, 10 and 11:30, Saturday at 1 and 3, through February 1; admission $3 for adults, $2.50 for children 12 and under. Call 357-1500.