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Dan Lauria Wants To Bring Theatre Back To Its Wonder Years

By Gary Wien


The theatre needs more people like Dan Lauria. He's best known for his role as the father on TV's "The Wonder Years", but, in addition to his work in television and movies, he's a true champion of the theatre. More importantly, he's a true champion of new theatre.

Dan will be making his return to the George Street Playhouse stage this January for Lee Blessing's new production, The Winning Streak. In the play, he portrays a retired major league umpire who lives near a ballpark. His world is shaken up a bit with the introduction of his son, the byproduct of a one-night stand that happened roughly 30 years ago.

The play takes you inside a father-son relationship that's never existed and may never get off the ground. As with most plays by Lee Blessing, there are comedic moments, bitter-sweet moments, and harsh doses of honesty making for a highly enjoyable story.

Dan Lauria's return to George Street was largely due to Lee Blessing. For 10 years, he ran a writing program in Los Angeles where they read a new play every Monday night. The idea was to help writers get literary agents. One of the writers they read each year was Blessing.

"It's always the writing that attracts me," explained Dan Lauria. "I was supposed to go back to L.A. for pilot season right after the first of January and Lee called and said, 'hey, I've got a new one' so I said let's go. It's a crime that we have so many good new writers that can't get produced."

Lauria knows a thing or two about getting new work produced. As an actor that has performed in theatres from coast to coast, Lauria is adamant about only acting in new productions.

"I don't do plays by dead white guys," said Lauria. "I've only done one revival in 17 years. Jack Klugman made me do The Price. He only got me to do it because he said Arthur Miller's not dead yet! But that's the only revival I've done."

When Lauria talks about theatre, you hear a passion in his voice that yearns to see theatre reclaim its place in the entertainment world. He mentions places like Seattle and Chicago, but admits that there isn't any one true spot for new works anymore. And he's seen the changes happen firsthand.

"Even 15 years ago, 50 regional theatres would all do a new play that was not done anywhere else," he explained. "Now five or six theatres will do a new play. One will make a little noise and the other 45 theatres will do that play and say it's a new play. This year it's Richard Dresser's Rounding Third; a couple of years ago it was Marc St. Germain's Camping With Henry and Tom. The Laramie Project must have been done in 50 regional theatres and every one said it was a new play. But it wasn't new, it was new the first time it did it.

So, we don't have regional theatres now trying to discover the new writer and get to New York. We have somebody in New York who will put up a play and make a little noise and then that play is done as the new play for the regional theatre. And you wonder why the audience is getting older and older when you don't bring kids in. Well, we don't do plays by younger people."

Lauria believes that there are two main reasons why the theatre has failed to attract younger audiences. One is that the young group of actors coming up now don't feel the need for theatre. The other is that theatre itself has simply gotten too expensive.

"When I started, we got a few dollars together, went into a basement, built a set, put on a new play and hoped that agents would come and see us," recalled Lauria. "We knew that no agents were going to come see another revival or something, so we were always looking for something new that would make a little noise. If you talk to people like Gary Sinise at Steppenwolf it was always young people looking for young writers and that's what started a group off. But nowadays, it's too expensive to do a showcase. For the same amount of money you can go to a Radio Shack, buy a digital camera and shoot a 20-minute movie that the actors have to show agents forever. So, we have a core of young actors who don't have a theatre background and feel no obligation to the theatre; therefore, they don't go back. See, I blame my fellow actors for the demise. Moreso than critics. Because if these young stars would go back to the theatre with new plays, it would build a whole new audience. I did a play with Fred Savage (The Wonder Years) about 7 years ago. It was his first professional play and we played Westport, Cape Cod and Algonquin, Maine and we sold out every night."

Lauria wishes that there was one major regional theatre close enough to New York City that it would attract the stars on a regular basis. The theatre would be committed to developing new works. Critics would be encouraged to come to only the last night so the plays would not be about success or failure but development. He feels that stars would feel safer going there if the critical pressure was removed.

In the magazine coverage area, Lauria is encouraged by the work of George Street Playhouse (although he keeps pressing David Saint to add more premieres each season) and the New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch. Lauria has known Gabor Barabas, NJ Rep's Executive Producer, for quite a while.

"I wish Gabe was the Artistic Director of a major theatre," said Lauria. "See, he only does new plays. And he went from two-week runs to three-week runs and now they're up to four-week runs. He's built an audience. You cannot pick a style because every style is done there. They do abstract plays, realistic plays - but they do new plays. And his audiences are young and old.

"I think it's a terrible thing to assume that the old people only want to see old plays," he continued. "One old fan told me, 'I was there when Willy Loman first walked on the stage. I was there when Blanche first walked on the stage. What makes you think I don't want to see a new Willy Loman or a new Blanche?' I think it's so insulting to assume that they're only going to see Kiss Me Kate."

You can see Dan Lauria in action during this month's run of The Winning Streak at the George Street Playhouse. After the run is over, Lauria will probably be seen in some television shows or maybe a film or two. His passion is the theatre, but the other mediums help financially to keep his passion alive. His work on The Wonder Years will always follow him wherever he goes, but he says that he regards it as a blessing.

"They wouldn't be considering me for these regional theatres if I didn't have some kind of name. John Ritter always said the same thing and he was right. He said start worrying when they stop bothering you about The Wonder Years. That's when you're in trouble..."



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The Panto Company Presents "Beauty and the Beast" at The Newton Theatre
(NEWTON, NJ) -- When you think of a dying rose and a clock, candlestick andteapot who talk... you are thinking Beauty and the Beast. One of this season's spellbinding family shows from The Panto Company USA stars Dame Dotty Potty, Loopy Louie, Gaston, Belle and of course The Beast!  The company brings their show to The Newton Theatre on Sunday, March 3 at 3:00pm.
La Strada Ensemble Theater Presents "La Bella Familia" by Edwin Sanchez
(OCEAN GROVE, NJ) -- La Strada Ensemble Theater presents La Bella Familia by Edwin Sanchez from January 18-20.  The play deals with a Puerto Rican hit woman and the gentlest man in the world move next door to the neighbors from hell and everyone learns, the hard way, that family comes first.
Art House Productions Presents "The Passion Project" by Reid Farrington
(JERSEY CITY, NJ) -- Art House Productions presents the unique theatrical experience that is Reid Farrington’s The Passion Project performed by Laura K. Nicoll.  Eight performances will take place from February 21st to March 3rd. The Passion Project is a 30 minute vibration between performance, film, and installation. Carl Th.Dreyer’s 1928 immortal masterpiece, “The Passion of Joan of Arc” is the main narrative along with the history behind the making of the film, a discussion with a Danish archivist, the story of making this project, as well as Joan’s own story –– her trial, torture, and execution. The Passion Project explodes the film into the three dimensions; placing the audience inside the film, sitting next to Joan, subjecting them to the relentless rhythm of 35 mm film projection.
4th Wall Theatre Presents "Intimate Apparel" by Lynn Nottage
(MAPLEWOOD, NJ) -- 4TH WALL THEATRE continues its 22nd season with a one weekend run of Lynn Nottage’s Intimate Apparel.  The show will be presented as part of the Black History Month celebrations on February 22, 23, and 24 at the Burgdorff Center for the Performing Arts in Maplewood, NJ.  The show is directed by 4th Wall Executive Director Gwen Ricks-Spencer.
East Lynne Theater, the Henry Sawyer Inn, and Twin Gable's Inn present Murder Mystery Weekends
(CAPE MAY, NJ) -- The award-winning East Lynne Theater Company, with The Henry Sawyer Inn and Twin Gables Inn, present Murder Mystery Weekends on February 15-16, March 8-9, March 22-23, March 29-30, and April 5-6. Participants can test their crime-solving skills while staying in one of these lovely Bed & Breakfasts. East Lynne Theater Company's Murder Mystery Weekends were cited among one of the top five in the country by "AM NY."  


It's "Apple Season" at NJ Rep
Every family has stories. Some are funny. Some are sweet. Some are sad. And some are never shared. Those are often the most powerful.
Rise of the Goatman
Theater For The New City presents Beltsville/Rockville, Part 1: Rise of the Goatman, an original play by Englewood resident Matt Okin (Artistic Director of Black Box Studios), from December 27 through January 13. In this pseudo-Southern Gothic dark comedy, a vibrant group of teens from two very different suburban neighborhoods clash over class differences, drugs, and sex - and the existence of the legendary ‘Goatman’ in 1986. Cut to 2013, and the adolescent kids of those very same teens are struggling to make sense of their family histories - and the same “mythological” creature - that could be holding them back in life.
PHOTOS from "The Winter's Tale" at Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey
(MADISON, NJ) -- The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey’s concludes its 56th season with its sixth and final Main Stage production, The Winter's Tale. Last seen at The Shakespeare Theatre in 2008, Artistic Director Bonnie J. Monte directs this production of Shakespeare’s tragicomedic romance. Veteran company members Jacqueline Antaramian, Jon Barker, Erin Partin, John Keabler, Raphael Nash Thompson,Seamus Mulcahy, Patrick Toon, and Ames Adamson are among a cast of 20 actors. Performances run now through December 30. 
REVIEW: "It's A Wonderful Life" At Mile Square Theatre
Nestled in a corner of Hoboken, on the second floor, lies the studios of radio station WMST.  It’s a wonderful art deco studio, replete with fine wooden walls, embedded with colorful lights an applause sign.  On stage, we’ve got a few chairs, several microphones and a whole corner wedged with all the necessary props – piano, men’s shoes, sheet metal – to create the audio effects for the production of “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
Betsy Aidem Puts A Woman's Touch On George Street Playhouse's "A Doll's House, Part 2"
Betsy Aidem is a veteran actress you might have seen on Broadway. Or maybe on an episode of “Law & Order: SVU.” Or maybe on the big screen last year in “The Greatest Showman.” But over the next few weeks in New Brunswick, Aidem is adding a brand-new section to her résumé — by helming a sequel (of sorts) to a classic play that’s more than 100 years old.






Event calendar
Thursday, Jan 17, 2019


MUSIC


Open Mic Night! @ Black Box PAC, Teaneck - 7:30pm


THEATRE

"Apple Season" by E.M. Lewis @ New Jersey Repertory Company, Long Branch - 8:00pm


KIDS

AMERICAN GIRL LIVE @ Bergen Performing Arts Center (bergenPAC), Englewood - 7:00pm

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