"Johnny Lee and me: Two black people from Dorchester who love Shakespeare."
That's how recent Harvard College grad Faith Imafidon describes herself and well-known actor and teacher Johnny Lee Davenport. Both are currently appearing in the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company's production of "As You Like," the annual Free Shakespeare on the Boston Common.
Both Imafidon and Davenport have dedicated themselves to challenging neighbors who dismiss Shakespeare as "too highbrow." The actors say that the theme of reconciliation in "As You Like It" "is a message that anyone can benefit from."
Imafidon, who just became a company apprentice, can be seen on stage as a Forester, but also understudies the bigger parts of Audrey and Hymen, the goddess in the closing masque.
Davenport, who shone two years ago as Claudius in ASP's "Hamlet" at the Strand, appears in the major role of Duke Senior, the banished nobleman who lives in Forest of Arden with his followers. Director Steven Maler has set this popular comedy in the World War II era. One of the show's more impressive set pieces is Duke Senior's crashed airplane, partly dismantled for re-use as by the survivors a la "Lost." Davenport cuts a dashing figure in his leather bomber jacket and long silk aviator scarf.
Davenport has set as a life goal to perform in all 38 of the Bard's plays; he's only got 9 to go. Alas, his current gig won't put another notch in his belt: he's been in the comedy twice before.
Under the auspices of Dot Art, Davenport has been teaching "Shakespeare Is Alive and Well in Dorchester" at the Murphy, O'Hearn, and Stone Schools, where the youngsters have been studying "The Tempest." His students will be coming en masse to see their internationally known teacher perform downtown. He hopes all his Dot neighbors will come and feel as if he's their representative up there on stage.
The Citi Performing Arts Center presents "As You Like It" at the Parkman Bandstand on Boston Common through Aug. 3 (Tues to Sat at 8 pm, Sun at 7). The third annual Celebrate Shakespeare Day (a multi-faceted free program of activities and performances) will be held on Saturday, Aug. 2, also at the Parkman Bandstand. Details at freeshakespeare.com.