By Bridgette M. Redman
Not all actors are gay, but it doesn’t stop some people from thinking so. Playwright and actor Patrick Moug has spent 25 years as a police officer. It’s the family business. When, along the way, he discovered he wanted to be an actor, it raised more than a few eyebrows.
“The first time I was in a play and my sisters told one of my brothers, he asked, ‘Is he gay?'” Moug said. “Here I am a SWAT officer, played football in college, but because I’m becoming an actor, the question is asked. I found it interesting.”
It was part of what inspired him to write the play that opened May 3 at the Detroit Ensemble Theatre in Ferndale, “Captain Buffalo,” directed by Barton Bund. The story, he explains, is definitely fictional, but inspired by his own experiences straddling two worlds with sometimes highly divergent outlooks.
Moug comes from a family of nine police officers and two firefighters spread over three generations.
“We were always the athletes,” Moug said. “No one ever got into acting. I dabbled in it by taking a couple courses in college and I really liked it, but I was afraid of what people would think of me. I was about eight years into being a police officer and I had this nagging feeling it wasn’t what my passion was.”
So after taking classes at The Purple Rose, he began acting and writing. Fourteen years ago he wrote “Captain Beef-alo,” the predecessor to this current script. It was, Moug said, more slapstick and humorous. Three years ago, he took it back out and wrote it as a screenplay, a work that won support from the Mi-GOAL (a Michigan gay and lesbian police organization).
From the screenplay, Moug turned it back into a play. In this rewritten version, Ryan or “Hoss,” the police officer planning to become an actor, faces opposition from James or “Bones,” his brother and fellow SWAT team member whose homophobia creates an antagonism toward the entire profession. Contributing to this was the loss of one of their SWAT brothers to “cancer,” a loss that James still struggles with.
“What I really hope I have done well is this character who is homophobic,” Moug said of the role, which he will also play in the DET production. “I think he is a good person. His being homophobic originates in a fellow officer who died of AIDS, one of his childhood friends. He can’t identify with him, he can’t explain it. This isn’t a police officer who gets killed in the line of duty. He becomes homophobic because he is hurt. His friend died and was gay.”
His journey becomes one of trying to understand someone who is different from himself and to grapple with the question about whether his love for his friend was any different just because the friend was gay.
Ryan’s journey is one of pursuing a dream despite the opposition he faces from his family and co-workers. He searches out a way to live both parts of his life. It is a journey that is intensely personal to the playwright, as it is inspired by his own journey from those early days of taking classes to a career that now involves both stage and film. In the past several years he has been a parking lot attendant in the movie “Sucker”; directed the television series “Keys to the Blue Goose,” which has a theme song recorded by Sarah Lenore (a finalist from “America’s Got Talent”); and has directed his own plays and films including “The Detroit 59ers” and “The Ugly One.”
But it is “Captain Buffalo” that is the most autobiographical, including the title that was a nickname he earned on the squad because he liked to eat buffalo – or beef-alo – meat from a farm in Chelsea.
“In one aspect, the two brothers are both me – me at first being reluctant, being afraid of what others would think of me. I took all those fears and made them present in the brother who wants to be an actor,” Moug said. “I think we’ve really fleshed out an honest antagonist instead of a stereotypical one. We have a good person who is thinking the wrong things.”
Detroit Ensemble Theatre at Michigan Actors Studio, 648 E. Nine Mile Road, Ferndale. Friday-Sunday through May 19. $12-18. 877-636-3320. http://www.Detroitensembletheatre.org