Sometimes you just know something is good. For instance, take a couple of weeks ago at Stageworks for the John Steinbeck epic “Of Mice and Men.” It took about five minutes to realize Dennis Duggan, playing the feature role of Lenny, was absolutely nailing the part. I don’t pretend to be an expert, but I do appreciate the work and dedication that goes into a major play like this. Lenny’s character is a large, slow-witted and conflicted soul – gentle of spirit, but also a hulking man incapable of self-control. I wrote a review of the play (which is now entering its final week) for this great metropolitan newspaper and lavished praise on Duggan and other members of this strong cast.
That’s when I heard from Anna Brennen, the founder and producing artistic director this neat little venue in the Channel District. She told me there is much more to Duggan than what I saw on stage that night. “It’s impossible not to be fond of Dennis,” she said. “You meet him, you admire him. “ So let’s meet him. He is a former Tampa police officer who lost a leg when his motorcycle was struck while he was providing security at the MacDill Air Fest. He still works as for TPD as a civilian employee. In high school up in New York, he joined the cast of a musical while recuperating from a football injury. A girl he knew was doing set design (that’s always how it starts). “They didn’t have a lot of guys in the play, so I got a couple of lines. I was hooked,” he said. He also coached some high school football around here while working for TPD and finding stage roles in places like the Mask in Temple Terrace, the New Tampa Players, Carrollwood Players. He has also directed several productions. Small playhouses are the lifeblood of any local cultural scene. That’s where you find people in it for the love the game – both on the stage and off. “When Stageworks announced they were going to do this play, I knew I wanted to play Lenny again. But then I looked in the mirror and saw a gray beard and gray hair. If I was the director, I wouldn’t cast me looking like that.” He will be 56 in a few days, much older in real life than Lenny was in character. Put it this way: His cohort in the play, Nathan Jokela, wasn’t born when Duggan first played the role of Lenny in a 1983 production for the Tampa Players. So how did he pull this off? It turns out Brennen saw him in that production 30 years ago and told him afterward how taken she was with his performance. “I didn’t know him from a hole in the wall before that night, but I told him I thought he was great,” she said. “He says, ‘Oh, I’m just a dumb cop.’ I told him we ought to work together some time.” “It kind of never happened,” Duggan said, at least until late last year when this play was being cast. He called and asked if she remembered him from that night all those years ago, and she did. She told him to dye his hair (no problem) and lose 25 pounds (he lost 40). And patrons got a night to remember.