Thoughts & Musings

Middletown Police Chief Finds Added Challenge On Stage

by Channing Gray, Providence Journal
  • 3rd February 20143/02/14
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At 61, Tony Pesare is still trying to figure out what he wants to do when he grows up. Pesare, the Middletown police chief for the past decade, has tried his hand at a number of vocations besides police work, including attorney, college professor and self-published novelist.

But his week, you can catch Pesare on stage wearing his actor’s hat. Middletown’s top cop is playing an innkeeper in 2nd Story Theatre’s “Seven Keys to Baldpate,” a play author George M. Cohan called a “mysterious, melodramatic farce” about a writer who has 24 hours to write a novel while sequestered in desolate inn.

Pesare isn’t on stage for more than 10 minutes, but he’s got crucial scenes at the beginning and end of the show.

“It’s kind of important to the play,” said Pesare, who got into acting around 2000 when he saw a newspaper article about 2nd Story’s Ed Shea holding acting lessons.

Pesare thought theater training would help his public speaking. At that point, he was dean of the School of Criminal Justice at Roger Williams University and doing a lot of teaching and public presentations.

So he asked childhood friend Vince Petronio, who had done a lot of acting in the past, to sign up with him. Petronio, who has ended up doing many roles at 2nd Story, wasn’t so sure, until Pesare offered to pay his tuition.

“I wanted someone to take the leap with me,” he said. “Vince was my security blanket.”

It was around 2000, when Shea was getting his latest incarnation of 2nd Story off the ground, in an old union hall on Market Street in Warren. He started out staging evenings of one-act plays, and Pesare soon got into the action.

“They were fun,” he said. “They gave you a chance to act without having to carry the play.”

Soon, Pesare moved onto the more substantial role of Willy Loman’s neighbor in “Death of a Salesman” with Bob Colonna. The show remains the high point of his career, he said.

Pesare took some time off from theater after he got his job in Middletown. But he resurfaced last season in Tennessee Williams’ “The Rose Tattoo,” and has now signed on to “Baldpate.”

Pesare says adding acting to the mix of things helps break up the stress of police work. Police officers can be very insular, he said, and end up belonging to a closed police culture. If they don’t break away from that, they can become “cynical.”

When Pesare is not on stage, he can often be found as a behind-the-scenes law and order consultant. He was the man who brought the look of authenticity to last fall’s “Lobby Hero,” a sharp play about a couple of urban cops and their dealings with a desk clerk.

Pesare made sure the actors knew the lingo, knew how to wear their hats, how to stand. He even arranged for Valerie Westgate, who played a female cop, to tag along on an overnight shift with one of his female officers.

“Lobby Hero” was fun,” said Pesare. “I didn’t have to worry about my lines.”

Even so, in nearly 15 years on stage, Pesare has never been involved in what you might call a train wreck. The worst that’s happened is that he has blanked for a moment and jumped a line, things his fellow players were there to catch.

Still learning lines gets harder, he said, when you reach an age where you can’t remember where you left your car keys.

These days, Pesare spends his days as a “carpet cop,” he said, the somewhat derogatory term for a law enforcement official concerned more with administrative duties and personnel matters, than tracking down robbers.

“The best times were chasing the bad guys,” said Pesare, who was a member of the Rhode Island State Police until retiring after 23 years in 1998 as second in command.

Even though he’s no longer chasing the bad guys, Pesare’s days are pretty full, visiting schools and senior centers and taking charge when there’s an emergency. Because of that, Ed Shea has broken with tradition and assigned Pesare an understudy, Jim Sullivan, in case Pesare has to dash off in the middle of a show.

In the mid-1990s, Pesare added a law degree to his list of accomplishments. He was a detective in the state police at the time, spending three nights a week after work in Boston at New England Law, logging his late-night detective shift Tuesday, and holing up all weekend in a friend’s law office to study.

Pesare stuck to that routine for four years, and when it was over, he found himself at the dinner table attempting to discipline one of his two daughters. And his daughter turned to his wife and said, “Do we have to listen to him?”

Pesare is also working on a sequel to his self-published novel, “They Always Win,” a fictionalized account of the crimes of reputed mobster Bobo Marrapese. He said he was “too lazy” to come up with original material, and went with what he knew from his days with the state police.

He is three chapters into a sequel, which starts with the love interest from the first novel, and follows informants into hiding.

But for now, the novel is on hold while Pesare plays innkeeper Elijah Quinby in 2nd Story’s upstairs theater.

Although acting has helped Pesare with public speaking, he says in a way it’s not natural, getting up in front of a lot of people and reciting lines.

“It’s a challenge,” he said. “And I’m hoping that someday I will at least reach a level of competency.”

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