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Saturday, January 19 Entertainment

Dan Lauria, Wendie Malick to star in ‘The Guys,’ a benefit at SCSU Sept. 8

U.S. Marine veteran Dan Lauria, who became famous as the gruff dad on splendid TV series “The Wonder Years,” has often been an authority figure in film and on TV, playing cops, coaches, commissioner, commanding officer and judge.

The run continues in a one-night New Haven engagement of the play “The Guys” in Lyman Center at Lauria’s alma mater, Southern Connecticut State University, Saturday, Sept. 8. He will play a New York fire captain in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and he’ll co-star with friend Wendie Malick of “Just Shoot Me” and “Hot in Cleveland” fame. She plays a writer who helps him prepare eulogies for the fallen.

Lauria, speaking recently by phone from a Chicago makeup wagon for the cable series “Shameless” (playing a disgraced candidate in that), said he and Malick did an episode of NBC’s “This is Us” and are scheduled to return to that popular show in the coming season.

Lauria’s football roots at Southern made him believable as Vince Lombardi on Broadway in 2011 and after that he enjoyed starring in the Fox series “Pitch” as a grizzled baseball manager, a show that also featured Malick. The writer of “Pitch,” Dan Fogelman, also produces “This is Us,” and when he asked Chris Sullivan (as Toby) who he wanted to play his parents, Sullivan said Lauria and Judith Light, who was in “Lombardi” with Lauria. Light wasn’t available so Fogelman quickly moved to Malick for the part, Lauria said.

The two characters in “The Guys” spark a friendship amid the grief as they realize “their shared love for the unconquerable spirit of the city” and share flashes of humor as they draw on “the enduring bonds of common humanity,” according to one description.

More Information

John Lyman Center for the Performing Arts, 501 Crescent St., New Haven. Saturday, Sept. 8, 7:30 p.m. $35 ($100 VIP with premium seating and post-performance reception on stage). 203-392-6154. Tickets.southernct.edu

“Not only is it a great play and a powerful play and a true story,” said Lauria, “it really gives you quite an insight into how the firemen dealt with the deaths of their fellow firemen. One of the most interesting things about the evening is when the play is over, we’ll actually have firemen come up on stage. It’s amazing some of the things that people don’t know about. Like one of the biggest problems on 9/11 was communication.”

When we comment about Lauria’s long list of credits on TV and in film, he said, “That’s a nice way of saying I’m old, but OK, I’ll buy it.”

Straight talk is why we love Lauria, who is 71. When we note that Bill Murray and others did the play before him, he points out that he and Malick perform it from memory. “All of those people who’ve done it do it ‘on book.’ It’s a play that’s read, like ‘Love Letters.’ Wendie and I are the only ones who do it off-book,” he said.

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Lauria and Malick have been doing the Anne Nelson play in California as benefits due to the fires there this summer. The play’s proceeds here will support student scholarships at SCSU.

Lauria was in Vancouver that fateful day in 2001, but he ended up volunteering in New York. “I got there two weeks later and I worked every Tuesday over nine months down there at (ground zero). ... I’d take a little golf cart down there and I got to know a lot of the firemen.”

Lauria and Malick also do “Love Letters” as benefits for animal-rights groups. Another cause of his, as a Vietnam vet, is to help veterans.

Asked about favorite roles, Lauria quotes Charles Durning and says, “the next one I get. You don’t go backwards.”

So, coming up for Lauria? In addition to the TV series roles, he’s in talks to do Hallmark movies with Danika McKellar (Winnie Cooper on “Wonder Years”), with Lauria playing her father.

Lauria has been back many times to his old college town, where was discovered on the football field by acclaimed acting teacher Constance Welch of Yale.

“Oh, I love Southern,” he said. “You know ‘Red’ Adanti was not only president, he was my linebacker coach when I played, so he had me give the commencement speech at the 100th anniversary.” And this play is part of the school’s 125th Anniversary Celebration.

jamarante@nhregister.com; @Joeammo on Twitter

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