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On Boston stages, these three supporting players are showstoppers

Gregg Mozgala and Shannon DeVido in the Huntington's "Teenage Dick."Teresa Castracane

“There are no small parts, only small actors,” or so the saying goes, but capturing the audience’s attention when you are not the star requires a delicate balance. In three current and recent Boston productions, supporting players have enjoyed breakout moments while amplifying the storytelling.

Shannon DeVido in “Teenage Dick,” Anthony Pires Jr. in “Passing Strange,” and Nathaniel Hamilton in “Mrs. Grinchley’s Christmas Carol” steal every scene they are in, while supplying nuance for the leads to respond to.

In Huntington Theatre Company’s “Teenage Dick” (at the Calderwood Pavilion through Jan. 2), playwright Mike Lew adapts Shakespeare’s “Richard III” and sets the play in a contemporary high school, in which the “ugly hunchback” Richard is a long-bullied teen with cerebral palsy, ready for revenge. Gregg Mozgala, who plays Richard and has cerebral palsy, commissioned Lew to write the play. DeVido plays one of Richard’s only friends, Buck (based on the Duke of Buckingham). From her wheelchair, she offers a perspective audiences rarely see, while delivering emotional depth and a lot of laughs.

“Originally, Buck was a guy,” says DeVido. “But Mike and Gregg wanted a wheelchair user to read the early draft, and I was the only one available.”


Shannon DeVido in the Huntington's "Teenage Dick."Teresa Castracane

DeVido is being modest, because even though Lew wrote the character, DeVido infuses Buck with so much personality, audiences cheer for her. Her wheelchair choreography reflects her hilarious reactions to comments and situations.

“I’ve been called a physical comedian,” she says, “and I think of those people as using their bodies to make comedy, you know, like falling over. But the wheelchair is an extension of my body, so I use it to emphasize a point or land a joke.”

In addition to her graceful moves, DeVido also has a brilliant smile and an eye roll any teen would admire, which, combined with her comic timing, make Buck the perfect foil for Mozgala’s Dick.


“I’ve done stand-up comedy,” DeVido says, “but I found it really lonely. When I discovered improvisation and sketch comedy, I found I loved that collaborative effort to build a scene.”

She’s worked on and off on “Teenage Dick” over the past six years while also performing in film and TV, and she has a YouTube channel featuring some clever sketches.

“I hope people enjoy a great night at the theater and see two disabled characters, played by two disabled actors, telling a really powerful story,” she says.

“Passing Strange” is the coming-of-age tale of an artist who breaks away from his suburban upbringing and travels to Amsterdam and Berlin to find inspiration. What is unique about composer Stew’s story, besides the great music, is that “Passing Strange” is told from the perspective of a Black man who toys with, and occasionally embraces, the stereotypes that surround him. The Moonbox Productions’ musical (through Jan. 1 at the Calderwood Pavilion) is narrated by the incomparable Davron S. Monroe, as the artist looking back on his formative years. While his younger self and his mother remain constants throughout the show, an ensemble of four performers morphs into various characters in the different settings.

Anthony Pires Jr. in Moonbox's "Passing Strange."Nikolai Alexander

Standing out among a quartet that includes Yewande Odetoyinbo (“Caroline, or Change,” “Breath & Imagination”) is no mean feat, but Pires’s fearless performance delivers three-dimensional portrayals of a repressed preacher’s son, a free-spirited citizen of Amsterdam, and a brusque member of an artists’ collective in Berlin.


“We are in all the scenes together, so we support each other as we connect with these characters,” Pires says. “I realized how much I love ensemble work when I was part of ‘Hair’ [at New Repertory Theatre]. It opened my eyes to opportunities to deliver a richer performance.”

He says “Passing Strange” director Arthur Gomez emphasized that the ensemble represents memories of the teachable moments that shaped the narrator.

“I think I connect most with Mr. Franklin [the preacher’s son who leads the church choir], who struggles with being true to himself,” says Pires. “When can you allow yourself to be vulnerable?”

Playing several parts is a bit of a roller-coaster ride, he says. “How do you make sure the audience understands each of your characters?”

Elmer Martinez’s choreography helps define the characters while providing fluid transitions from one location to the next. Pires makes that choreography his own, providing more shading and detail to each of his characters.

“We were told to have fun and create musicality and movement for each scene,” he says. “This is a Black story that we all connect with. It’s important to ensure audiences can connect, too.”

When Ryan Landry called Nathaniel Hamilton to ask if he was available for the return of the Gold Dust Orphans in “Mrs. Grinchley’s Christmas Carol,” Hamilton was happy to say yes. The show recently ended its run at the Iron Wolf Theatre in South Boston.


“Working on a Gold Dust Orphans show is unlike any other theatrical experience,” says Hamilton. “We hope it looks easy, but it takes tremendous concentration.”

Ryan Landry (left) and Nathaniel Hamilton in the Gold Dust Orphans' "Mrs. Grinchley's Christmas Carol."Michael von Redlich

Landry’s fast-paced, often bawdy dialogue requires every member of the company to stay fully immersed, while maintaining an almost breathless pace. Although he plays the starring role and the shows reflect his vision, Landry always leaves room for star turns. As the Ghost of Christmas Present, Hamilton, kitted out like an Egyptian sun god, complete with a golden disc behind his head that looked like a cross between a halo and a dinner plate, follows the Dickens narrative by showing Mrs. Grinchley the simple joys of appreciating what you have.

But when his big moment comes, rather than break into a Christmas carol, Hamilton lets loose with a soulful, show-stopping “Try a Little Tenderness,” made famous by Otis Redding, among others.

“When Ryan was working on the script, he asked me to suggest a few songs — but not Christmas carols,” Hamilton says. “In the end, he chose ‘Try a Little Tenderness.’ ”

“It’s an honor to have a character built around me,” says Hamilton, “but one of the things that makes a Gold Dust Orphans’ show so fun is that Ryan is guided by the cast that he brings together. In rehearsal, we ad lib and develop moments until we land on comedy gold. There’s always an original script and an ‘as performed script.’ It may look like we’re just goofing off, but the timing is very precise.”


While Hamilton, Pires, and DeVido seem certain to step into leading roles in the future, they all value the collaborative experience that makes a production greater than the sum of its parts.