TAMPA — Ambition in theater is nothing if not respectable, and Jobsite Theater has achieved at least that much with Shakespeare's As You Like It.
This is a sprawling, sometimes contemporary version of the comedy, which as the title implies, contains a little something for everyone. In that spirit, a large cast delivers an enjoyable production, suitable for different tastes. The set of the royal court hints of Tampa, and the nostalgic twinge contrasts with the relatively stress-free Forest of Arden, to which several characters have been "banished" by a controlling Queen Frederick.
The well-bred Orlando de Boys runs afoul of his brother Oliver by rightfully contesting the will of their father, and flees to the forest. There he meets Rosalind, who displeased the queen by falling in love with Orlando (capably played by Derrick Phillips).
The bold Rosalind has disguised herself as a man, which prevents her from revealing her true identity to a forlorn Orlando, who is mourning the loss of Rosalind. By the play's tidy end, four couples have been united, in part by undoing the games of courtship and various conceits which do more to separate lovers than bring them together.
This playful endeavor, led by director David Jenkins, Jobsite's producing artistic director, pulses with commitment to ferry these subplots home, often by switching the gender of some cast members or doubling or tripling actor roles. For example, Shakespeare's Duke Frederick is a queen in Jobsite's production, who banishes her brother Queen Senor (also a duke in the original) to the forest. Becca McCoy in a standout performance plays both roles, delivering an indispensable clarity to the action.
Roxanne Fay plays the jester Touchstone, who as in the Shakespeare text loves Audrey, played by Katrina Stevenson, and their pastoral scenes make for some of the show's most delightful moments. A cynical and world-weary Jaques (Shawn Paonessa) delivers some of Shakespeare's most enduring lines, including the "All the world's a stage" speech and a gem of a shorter soliloquy about the hours of a clock approaching noon ("And so, from hour to hour, we ripe and ripe, And then, from hour to hour, we rot and rot; And thereby hangs a tale").
The play contrasts life in the heart of the city and in nature, but it's never really a contest. All of the best people are banished, and only in the forest can lovers and enemies relax and reveal themselves as humans. Screens depicting either waterfront mansions or lush forests, coupled sometimes with pleasant audio of the rural scenes, paint each side of that equation with light and shadow and invite us to question which world we want to live in.
As Rosalind, Emily Belvo energetically pushes along this assembly of moving parts from start to finish. In step with the production itself, she goes for broke, and with an arresting intensity. The production comes across a little scattershot, but even that feels deliberate. Jobsite has never been a theater to cater to audience expectations. But here, they offer something to like.
Contact Andrew Meacham at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.