TAMPA — The Tempest begins with shadow play, a ship tossed on high seas. Projected onto a backdrop, the shadow of that ship looks proportionate to the waves that rock it. You see this, even as a daemonic spirit holds a toy replica in her hand, the actual ship which creates the projected shadow on the screen.
So opens Jobsite Theater's interpretation of the Shakespeare comedy, which like many of his lighter plays is much deeper than what we think of as comedy today. Simultaneously in the foreground, old enemies of Prospero, the wrongly dispossessed duke of Milan, appear moments from death in an abstract representation of a foundering ship.
This production is nothing if not ambitious, and that same level of effort — including the extra step of composing and recording music (Jeremy Douglass and vocalists) — carries through to the end. Director David Jenkins and the cast establish in many places a tranquilizing, almost hypnotic mood for this tale of treachery undone by magic, on an island populated by imperfect humans and one reptilian hybrid.
At times it feels as though Jenkins has thrown the proverbial kitchen sink onto the stage, or the screen, to create that mood while also producing irreverent comedy. It is up to you to either filter the occasional odd, almost psychedelic imagery or the discordant bid for laughs, as when old black-and-white footage of hounds chasing a fox conveys Prospero releasing the hounds upon Caliban. An enthusiastic, all-of-the-above selection process could be hard to take, given the brisk pace and the density of information. But those who have faith and stay on board will be rewarded for their close attention.
The evening belongs to Roxanne Fay as Prospero, written as a male character but following a recent trend famously embodied by Helen Mirren. Her performance crackles with the kind of power her character wields, and gender is not an issue. (Should it be? If there's a point being made in the casting itself, I'm not sure what it is, but no matter.) Fay manages to play occupying overlord with beneficence, enslaving the witch hybrid Caliban (played with a winning repulsiveness and physical comedy by Giles Davies) and making vengeance seem right.
The production focuses on the relationship between Prospero and Ariel, the spirit played by with effervescence Katrina Stevenson, who spends much of the time doing acrobatics from sashes on either side of a circular stage. Other key roles include a brilliantly cartoonish villain in Antonio (Brian Shea) and Derrick Phillips and Ward Smith as bumbling drunkards Trinculo and Stephano, who carry out a subplot while flipping each other off and even sneaking in a Trump joke. Emily Belvo and DeQuan Mitchell turn in sympathetic performances as the lovers Miranda and Ferdinand.
By Prospero's glorious concluding speech to the audience, the bows have all been tied and this busy tribute to the world's greatest playwright is showing us again why he has never been equalled.
Contact Andrew Meacham at email@example.com or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.