Theater Notebook: New Village’s ‘Ferryman’ lead actor back onstage after 20-year break

Thomas Edward Daugherty, left, and Joy Yvonne Jones in "The Ferryman."
Thomas Edward Daugherty, left, and Joy Yvonne Jones in New Village Arts Theatre’s “The Ferryman.”
(Courtesy of Daren Scott)

Thomas Edward Daugherty gave up acting in 2003 to support his family as a lawyer. But the prize-winning play lured him back


Thomas Edward Daugherty looks perfectly at home in the lead role of Quinn Carney, the gentle-natured father of seven trying to hold his family together during the Irish “Troubles” in New Village Arts Theatre’s U.S. regional premiere of “The Ferryman” in Carlsbad.

So it surprised me to read his bio in the program and discover that this production, which continues through March 5, is Daugherty’s first time onstage in 20 years. Back in 2003, he was in the original cast of a new Stephen Sondheim musical that played in Chicago and Washington, D.C.

Carlsbad company is first to land the U.S. staging rights, outside of Broadway, for this Tony-winning play about the Irish “Troubles”

Feb. 5, 2023

But when it closed, he quit acting, went to law school and became an employment attorney. He and his wife, veteran local actor and director Jacquelyn Ritz, now live in Poway with their three children, ages 13 to 20. Daugherty said he has been content all these years to enjoy theater from a seat in the audience. But then “The Ferryman” came along and he wondered what it would be like to hit the boards again.

Here are excerpts from our conversation:

Q: When did you fall in love with acting?

A: I got the acting bug in high school. When I got into college I bounced around in my freshman year at Notre Dame and then transferred to the University of Michigan, where I thought I’d be a teacher or go to law school. But all the time I was taking these acting classes and doing theater outside of class. Around that time I was aware of this writer, Joseph Campbell, and he said “follow your bliss and your needs will take care of themselves.” That resonated with me. I thought maybe I’ll get good at this because this is bliss to me. I was so lucky to be at the University of Michigan because they have a fantastic musical theater BFA program and I lucked into that.

Q: Where did you start your professional career?

A: I grew up going to Chicago where we’d see shows and play and that lit me up. So after college, I moved to Chicago when my classmates went to New York and many of them are Broadway stars now. In Chicago I worked right away. There were a lot of opportunities for young people to work in the theater there. I worked there for 11 years at a very high level with some wonderful people. (His credits include the national tours of “Ragtime” and “Showboat,” and shows at the Goodman Theatre and Chicago Shakespeare Theatre.) That’s where I met my wife, Jackie Ritz. We were together a long time before we started having kids.

Q: So when did you start to realize you might give up acting?

A: You can have a great year doing theater but you’d travel for half the year. I didn’t want that for my family life, so I made the decision to change course. I was about 33 years old when I got accepted to law school. Then Jackie and I went on an audition for a new Stephen Sondheim musical at the Goodman. Our son, Nick, was an infant in a carry basket at the time, so we went with that and auditioned and both got cast in a show called “Bounce,” which later evolved into “Road Show.” It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Stephen Sondheim wrote the music, John Weidman wrote the book and Hal Prince was directing. Just to be in the same room and work with Sondheim was one of the greatest experiences of my life. We did the show at the Goodman and then took it to the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and we both were part of the show’s original cast recording in Washington. When it closed, I decided I’d peaked and don’t need to do it anymore. This is the perfect exit.

Q: How did you end up here?

A: I went to Loyola University Law School in Chicago and practiced there for three years and then we moved to San Diego for the weather in 2010. My wife’s sister lived here at the time and we wanted to be close to family in a sunny place. I was game with that. I made the decision that my focus would be having a young family and building up a law practice (Klinedinist PC in downtown San Diego) and not do any theater.

Q: So what finally lured you back to the stage?

A: My wife has stayed very active in theater. She acts regularly at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach, and last summer she did “Lempicka” at La Jolla Playhouse. A couple of years ago I was thinking about how I missed it and she convinced me to take an acting class with her. I did a monologue from “The Ferryman” for that class. I got to know the play and said to myself if there’s ever a chance I could do that play, I will go for it. Lo and behold, “The Ferryman” was a huge hit in London and on Broadway and there was a national tour that shut down because of the pandemic. Then the next thing I know I see an audition notice for “The Ferryman” at New Village Arts. They’re very ambitious to take this on and they’re so creative and caring and thoughtful. I wrote Kristianne Kurner (New Village’s executive artistic director) a letter and told her my background and that I’d love to talk to her about this play because I feel so connected to the Quinn Carney character. She encouraged me to audition.

Thomas Edward Daugherty and his real-life son, Nick Ritz Daugherty in "The Ferryman."
Thomas Edward Daugherty and his real-life son, Nick Ritz Daugherty, play father and son in New Village Arts’ “The Ferryman.”
(Courtesy of Daren Scott)

Q: Not only did you land the lead role, your 20-year-old son, Nick Ritz Daugherty, is also in the show, and he plays your son, James Carney.

A: I saw there were roles in the play that all three of my kids could play so we all talked about submitting a video audition. Our son Zach, 16, realized doing the play would conflict with soccer so he opted out. But Nick and our youngest, Caroline, got callbacks. But the play would’ve conflicted with her high school musical, “Matilda,” so she decided to do that instead. So Nick and went and we got called back and got to do the show together.

Q: What’s it been like acting in a production with Nick?

A: Because I quit acting when he was a baby, he never got to see that part of my life. Getting to share moments onstage with him has been great. There’s a scene where I say to his character: ‘This farm will be yours to take care of your family and hold your head high.’ It’s been just wonderful.

Q: How is acting different for you now compared to 20 years ago?

A: I quit in my early 30s and I’m just a very different person now. I feel a some things are coming much easier to me now. I can read this play and start weeping at different moments. It connects to me deeply in my emotional core. I didn’t feel nervous being onstage again. It felt like riding a bike. I did at times need a little reassurance from my wife, Jackie. She’s been a great resource to bounce ideas off.

Q: So now that you’ve had the experience of being back onstage, will you do it again or will you go out on top a second time.

A: I’ve been so happy to have theater back in my life. I don’t want to go another 20 years without doing it. It has been a little tricky to navigate balancing between my law practice and doing theater at night. But my law firm has been incredibly supportive of me doing this. They organized and bought out half the theater for the Feb. 17 performance. Maybe in the future I’ll do one show a year, if I can manage it.

Q: Is there a play out there you’d still like to do?

A: What I loved about “The Ferryman” is it’s just an amazingly well written play, the characters are so complex and the subject matter is also very compelling to me. When I was doing theater to make a living, I had to keep pounding the pavement and take any job. Now I’m in a position where I can wait for those projects that really spark my interest and go after those.

“The Ferryman” plays at 2 p.m. Wednesdays; 7:30 p.m. Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays; through March 5 at New Village Arts, 2787 State St., Carlsbad. Tickets are $30-$50. Call (760) 433-3245 or visit

Kragen writes about theater for the San Diego Union-Tribune. Email her at