Shakespeare must’ve been orchestrating from his grave: Three times during Independent Shakespeare Company’s production of Othello in Griffith Park, a pack of coyotes burst into laughter. Fitting that nature should interject its opinion on that most futile of human emotions that motorizes the action of Shakespeare’s tragedy. “O, beware, my lord, of jealousy; It is the green-ey’d monster, which doth mock the meat it feeds on ...” the kingpin Iago ironically warns Othello. Director Melissa Chalsma has elicited smart, sharp, funny interpretations from her cast, notably Cameron Knight, Andre Martin, David Melville and Bernadette Sullivan; and even with the distractions that accompany an outdoor performance (bring blankets and sweaters), the audience was rapt throughout. As Othello, Knight precisely navigates the slippery slope into paranoia, gradually unraveling until he becomes near-primal, the “black ram” Iago first described him as and now has led him to be. Melville, a charismatic villain, transforms physically as Iago, bounding confidently at Act 1 opens, only to become hunched and shuffling as if shackled by mid-play. Shakespeare proves to have been a cultural seer — he set an African as commander-in-chief long before we even considered the idea — commenting on interracial marriage ages before Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and promoting feminist ideology centuries before Gloria Steinem became a Playboy Bunny. Universal truths keep him relevant; here, it’s how susceptible we are to doubt and how jealousy erects a steel coffin around the mind. The desire to exact justice after being provoked by senseless injustices keeps Shakespeare satisfying, despite the inevitable high body count that revenge can accrue. Here, justice is served by a woman choosing truth over matrimonial obedience, while the revenge is as misguided as it is pointless. Independent Shakespeare Co. and Griffith Park Free Shakespeare Festival, Griffith Park, Old Zoo Picnic Area, 4730 Crystal Springs Dr.; Thurs.-Sun., 7 p.m.; through August 1. (818) 710-6306.
Thursdays-Sundays, 7 p.m. Starts: July 8. Continues through Aug. 1, 2010