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An ‘arresting’ performance: Philly sheriff turns actor

Being a typical South Philly guy actually helped Dave Dougherty get roles.
Dave Dougherty, an officer with the Philadelphia Sheriff's Department for 30 years, is branching out into work as an actor. (Provided)

For the past thirty years, Dave Dougherty of Roxborough has served as an officer of the Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office.

But, the long-time law enforcement professional – he’s assigned to handle violent crimes against juveniles – also prides himself on a successful second career on stage and screen.  

Dougherty is an actor, and he is in a new show, "My Big Gay Italian Wedding," that will open on June 30 in Atlantic City.

In a recent interview, Dougherty said that his career as a thespian began as something of a lark 15 years ago, when he tried out for a play after seeing an ad in an issue of the no-longer-published Philadelphia City Paper.

“I went in and, lo and behold, they hired me,” he said of his first audition, which was for an off-Broadway play based on the TV show "The Sopranos." “Before then, I had only one acting class to my resume.”

Since that audition, Dougherty said, he’s been working steadily with roles in plays and short films. A job that he thought would be a fun way to make a little extra income has become a passion that he hopes to embrace full time after he retires from his job in law enforcement.

“I’ve been lucky enough to do a lot of stuff. … I found out that I have some skill in this,” he said. “I was like, ‘Hey, I guess I’m pretty good at this.’”

But he admitted that having a full-time career in law enforcement has impacted his budding acting career. To make it to auditions throughout the region, Dougherty has been using vacation time as much as he can.

“The trick is, you’ve got to do this sort of balancing things,” he said. “I use vacation time when I can. But I’ve had to turn down jobs because I couldn’t make it.”

Still, Dougherty said the struggles of a working actor pale in comparison to the joy he gets from performing in front of a live audience.

Also, he said, as a typical South Philly guy – he was born there and has lived in North and Northeast Philly neighborhoods throughout his life – Dougherty has found that he has a knack for playing the typical cop, union construction worker and fireman-types. In fact, Dougherty said he recently played an FBI agent in a small film.

But with this new play, he’s also enjoying the challenge of playing something a little different.

“That’s kind of the joy of this. It’s challenging, but you want to see if you can do it,” said Dougherty.

In the upcoming play, which is part of a trilogy of performances that also includes “My Big Gay Italian Funeral” and “My Big Gay Italian Midlife Crisis,” Dougherty plays the father of one of the men getting married.

And, in the past, in a short film, Dougherty – a straight single father of a 23-year-old son – played a gay man as an actor. It was a role, he said, that his friends didn’t believe he would do, given his tough-guy persona.

“Some of that stuff can seem kind of diametrically opposed to my day job,” said Dougherty. “But, it’s like any role. You take it, and you say ‘Can I do it?’ … I look forward to that, and in the future, as I do plays more and more, to see if I can become something else.”

Dougherty’s new show, “My Big Gay Italian Wedding” opens on Friday, June 30, at the Superstar Theater in Atlantic City. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster or by visiting Dougherty’s website at Davedoc.org