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A Little Calm Before the Storm

Jules Becker

“I like to do theater that means something,” Johnny Lee Davenport recently exclaimed.

The veteran 62-year-old African American actor has certainly been practicing what he preaches.

His extensive credits read like a Who’s Who of area companies producing Shakespeare alone: comic, dramatic and tragic roles with Actors’ Shakespeare Project, Commonwealth Shakespeare Company, Shakespeare and Company and Trinity Repertory Company just to name a few.

Earlier this year Davenport brought majesty to the role of Cape Town, South Africa waiter Sam in the Athol Fugard classic “Master Harold and the Boys” at Gloucester Stage Company.

This Sunday he is making a return visit to Goethe-Institut Boston for more provocative fare — this time German Stage’s “A Little Calm Before the Storm” by German playwright Theresia Walser.

In Walser’s short play (about 75 minutes) – Davenport is one of a trio of actors preparing for a panel discussion about playing Hitler on stage. In the drama’s back story, two of the three have already portrayed him and one has played fellow Nazi leader Goebbels — all on film.

All three realize that taking on such a role on stage will be much more challenging and controversial. Each may find that their preparations prove just as stormy in their own right as the upcoming panel discussion itself.

Davenport said warmed to the play in part because of what it says about his profession. “The play is very insightful about an actor’s process,” Davenport said. “Does an actor take over the role or does the role take over the actor?”

He also liked what he called “the sparsity” of Walser’s dialogue. “It’s a strange kind of surrealistic piece,” he noted.

Davenport recently worked with Israeli Stage producing artistic director Ben Aharon in another effort — a staged reading of Israeli playwright Gilad Evron’s acclaimed play “Ulysses on Bottles.”

As the title character, he played an idealistic teacher who tries to bring books to Israel in an unconventional manner, naive about questionable transports in the wake of the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestinians.

“He’s a poet,a romanticist,” Davenport observed. “He really doesn’t realize what kind of trouble he’s in.”

Ulysses ends up in jail requiring legal representation, and Evron’s play considers the pros and cons of this modern day Ulysses’ controversial odyssey. The seasoned actor welcomed the opportunity to work with such other veteran performers as Karen MacDonald, Will Lyman and Kissel. “These are people whom I’ve really respected,” he remarked.

Davenport was equally effusive about Ben-Aharon. “Guy is fearless,” he said. “He’s so smart. It’s very exciting to be part of Israeli Stage.”

He also praised the director’s approach to a staged reading. “Guy is very particular,” he explained. “I really applaud him for his dedication and courage. He’s really going to be one of the heavy hitters in theater.”

Going forward, Davenport’s next undertaking is the New England premiere of “Invisible Man” — a co-production of Washington D.C.’s Studio Theatre and Huntington Theatre Company January 4-February 3 (617-266-0800 or huntingtontheatre.org).

In the play adaptation of Ralph Ellison’s 1952 masterwork novel, he will play several roles. In fact, as Davenport noted, “All of the characters are a projection of Invisible Man’s experience.”

In his Boston debut, African American actor Teagle F. Bougere will play Invisible Man, an unnamed black man who considers himself socially invisible.

A Little Calm Before the Storm, German Stage presentation at Goethe Institut-Boston, 170 Beacon Street,Boston.Dec.2,7 p.m.617-262-6050 or info@boston.goethe.org.