When actor Dan Lauria was asked to return to his alma mater Southern Connecticut State University to perform the play “The Guys,” it seemed like the perfect timing to revisit his roots. The show is part of Southern’s 125th anniversary and a fundraiser for their football team. Lauria, who came to Southern in the late ‘60s to play football and later graduated with a theater minor, will honor the two pillars of his college years with this benefit performance. He has been touring Anne Nelson’s “The Guys” and A.R. Gurney’s “Love Letters” alongside actress Wendie Malick (currently starring in shows like “This Is Us,” “BoJack Horseman” and “The Ranch”) at fundraisers and theaters across the country.
When it was decided the show would correspond with the 125th anniversary of Southern, which coincidentally occurs on September 11th, he knew “The Guys” would be a perfect fit. The play, which is based on a true story, is about a captain in the New York City fire department who lost eight men in the 9/11 attacks and is working with a journalist to write their eulogies. “It's very poignant,” Lauria said over the phone (he was on set of his next project, a recurring role in season nine of Showtime’s “Shameless”), “with all the fires that are going on now in California and all, it's more relevant than ever before. It's a very powerful piece but it has a lot of humor as well.”
The fundraiser takes place at Southern’s Lyman Center on September 8th at 8:00. The show is sponsored by the Football Alumni Network, a Southern affinity group made up enthusiastic former football players. “They’re raising money for the football team so that our coach can recruit students to come here and play,” explains Michelle Rocheford Johnston, director of alumni relations, “We rank dead last in the number of scholarships for student-athletes because we just don't have the money to give them.” Schools in the Northeast-10 conference are allowed to give 36 scholarships to their students and Southern is only budgeted for eight. That’s a small number given the 95 players on the team’s roster and that, according to the New Haven Register, “every other team in the league offers at least twice as many scholarships with five schools [offering] at least 30.” Leading the charge to change this is Larry Ciotti, chair of Southern’s Football Alumni Network, who worked with committee member Joe Ginnetti, a friend and former teammate of Lauria’s, to bring “The Guys” to campus. The $35 tickets will all go to these scholarships. Special $100 VIP tickets are also available to those who wish to attend a meet-and-greet with Lauria and Malick.
It’s a cause close to the “Wonder Years” star, who planned to become a football coach when he attended Southern. Everything changed, though, during a chance encounter with a theater professor. “I was telling a joke on the football field during spring practice,” he said, “when Constance Welch, who was a famous teacher at the Yale Dramat, tapped me on my shoulder and said, 'would you like to be in a play?'” That day, Lauria, who had always harbored a secret desire to try acting, was convinced to audition for an upcoming show and the rest is history. “I’ve been an actor ever since,” he says of his forty-plus-year career which includes television (most recently “Sullivan & Sons,” “Fly” and “The Good Wife”), film (“Independence Day”) and Broadway (the title role in 2010’s “Lombardi”).
“The Guys” kicks off a year-long celebration at Southern, which includes a grand reunion featuring members of all classes, affinity groups and academic programs on October 19th. For Rocheford Johnston, herself an actress and costume designer in the Connecticut community theater scene, Lauria’s homecoming is the perfect way to begin the festivities. “Dan’s been a very dear part of our history over the years. When he was on 'The Wonder Years,' he would wear a Southern sweatshirt just about every episode. He's very proud of Southern and we're proud of him.”
“The Guys” will be presented at Southern Connecticut State University’s John Lyman Center For The Performing Arts in New Haven, CT on September 8th. For more information, visit their website. For information on Southern’s Theater program, which will be beginning their season with “The Addams Family” in October, visit their website.