When you think Shakespeare in the Park, the first of the Bard's plays to spring to mind as one that makes sense to be staged in an outdoor setting is probably not the tale of the tragic Moor who is tricked into throttling his hapless wife as if she were a rubber chicken. But director Stephan Wolfert's unpretentious, moving production, staged in the outdoor band shell behind the Felicia Mahood Senior Center, unspools with an artful combination of psychological depth and brisk military precision a fitting mash-up for a theater company whose members consist of professional actors who are a mix of military veterans and civilians. Although Shakespeare's text suffers from being trimmed to the bone to make the show's 90-minute performance time, Wolfert's production nevertheless boasts some rich character work. Wolfert's turn as the diabolical Iago, whose bitterness over being passed up for promotion drives him to trick his master, Othello (Arnell Powell), into killing his lovely wife, Desdemona (Jody Carlson), is fascinatingly complex. He plays the villain with surface geniality, wheedling his falsely friendly encouragements with an oily smile that makes it only too clear why Othello prefers the handsome, more obviously loyal Cassio (an appealingly charismatic Daniel Kucan). Powell assays Othello as a shrewd (but unexpectedly unworldly) military genius, attracted to the innocence of his Desdemona. He finds himself completely lost amidst the currents of psychological manipulation and warfare an easy, naive mark for Wolfert's cerebrally wily Iago. The straightforward simplicity of the brutal scene in which Othello strangles Desdemona (Carlson plays her like some high school sweetheart) is so barbaric, it's far more profoundly disturbing than one sees in most productions of this work. The West L.A. Bandshell, behind the West L.A. Library, 11338 Santa Monica Blvd., W. L.A.; Sat.-Sun., 6 p.m.; through Aug. 8. (310) 559-2116. Free. Shakespeare and Veterans Productions.
Saturdays, Sundays, 6 p.m. Starts: July 10. Continues through Aug. 8, 2010