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Dan Lauria Makes His Mark As A Stone Carver

First of all, let me preface my interview with this statement: The New York premiere of William Mastrosimone's A STONE CARVER, is a unique wonderful piece of theatre that should not be missed.  Mastrosimone was responsible for the riveting drama EXTREMITIES. A STONE CARVER deals with the subject of eminent domain and its ultimate effects on the people who are displaced as a result.The performances by all three cast members (Dan Lauria, Elizabeth Rossa and Jim Iorio), make for a truly moving and honest experience for each audience member.  The emotions experienced during the piece run the gamut from the wonderfully belly-wrenching comedic moments to the truly heartwarming emotional turns leaving you truly sated and feeling for the characters in the play. It's playing currently off Broadway at the appropriately intimate Soho Playhouse. 

The storyline revolves around an elderly stone carver (Lauria), who is being forced to leave his self–built home by eminent domain when the town wants to build a new highway off-ramp through his property and issues eminent domain orders to clear the land. His son (Iorio), accompanied by his fiancée (Rossa), comes into the picture as a rising politician who is trying to convince him to move.  I spoke with Lauria and Rossa after one of the performances about the show.

TJ: What a great show this is! 


LAURIA: It's a shame that for someone like him (author William Mastrosimone), we had to go to Trenton first. It takes twenty years to get a play like this play to New York. 


TJ: But a lot of the subject matter in the show is relevant, especially today. 


LAURIA: Well, Elizabeth Rossa, who plays Janice in the play, she is the reason why we even got started with this.I had a program out in LA where we would read a new play every Monday night. We would always read Bill's stuff.  Well, I was doing a play in New York called Ears on a Beatle by Mark St. Germain, who wrote CAMPING WITH HENRY.  Elizabeth came to see it and she said, "Do you think Bill would let us do A STONE CARVER, because eminent domain is in the newspaper?" Well, I said that he is so protective of this play. So, she called him and asked if he would do it.  Bill told her he would only do it if Dan Lauria does it and we do it in Trenton…. Have you ever been to Trenton? 


TJ: No, I haven't. 


LAURIA: Dunkin' Donuts closes at five o'clock. (Laughter)  I'm not exaggerating. Our clothes were a little damp one day and we hung our clothes outside on the line just before the show.  The homeless people stole them.  There's really nothing there.  One of the reasons Bill wanted to do the show in New Jersey was that he thought many people wouldn't see it and he wanted to work on the script.Elizabeth does a monologue in the show, which she learned just three days ago. 


(His co-star, Elizabeth Rossa, joined us at this point for the rest of the interview) 


TJ: I have to say the two of you have a great rapport on stage, especially with the "pepper" scene. 


LAURIA:  Well, we have the advantage that we have done the show for like three to four weeks in Trenton, but we did know each other before that. 


TJ: Where did the two of you meet? 


ROSSA: Los Angeles.  The reading series at the theatre. 


LAURIA: It became a hangout. It was called Playwrights Kitchen Ensemble. Monday night was always packed….we'd have great stars like Richard Dreyfuss and Blythe Danner.During the week, it was really like a hangout.  I remember after working with Jack Klugman, I said, "Jack, come by during the week?" And he came in and there was me, Chris Lemmon, Jack's son and Joe Mantegna, Dennis Farina, Blythe Danner, Peter Falk, Gena Rowlands and John Ritter and his son. We were all sitting around a table reading a screenplay that Chris wrote. Sitting in the audience is three people…..Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau and their agent.Well, Jack Klugman walks in and says, "What the hell's going on here??"  Charles Durning was there too and he says, "I got too many characters. Jack, read this one."  Next thing you know, Jack's reading the scripts too.  


TJ: Nice little hangout and some great people. 


LAURIA: Yeah, I learned a lot. I know Jack's coming and Charlie's going to try to come.  He's doing the TV series, RESCUE ME. 


TJ: Great series. Speaking of which, you had a great series in THE WONDER YEARS.  


LAURIA: Yeah, and like this show, it's really the writing.  It shows you what they could do with TV if they wanted to…Like a lot of our playwrights and a lot of producers, they shun away from anything sentimental or emotional. 


TJ: Why do think that is? 


LAURIA: Critics.  One reason is they don't think the critics will buy it.  Two, I think we're going into another phase of theatre

where it's going to theatre of the rich by the rich for the rich. I don't think that's a great place to go for plays like this where most people sit in the audience and say, "I know those people."  


TJ: A lot of theatre is too commercialized. Missing the humanity. And that's actually the wonderful things about A STONE CARVER. It touches you and it strikes a chord not only emotionally but on the social issues of the day as well. 


LAURIA: If the stars would come off Broadway, they would love to do a show like this. I sent the play to other big name actors and their people would say that they wouldn't do this play. I don't think their people see it as a Broadway play. It's not spectacular enough. But I think if the actors read it themselves, they would love it and want to do the show. Very few off-Broadway plays make it to Broadway and the few that do usually come from the Manhattan Theatre Club, where they have the advantage of doing it, like Joe Papp did, in a small venue or owned a Broadway theatre. So they may have to go to Trenton. 


TJ: You can always come to Providence, Dan! 


ROSSA: You know, maybe we're actually going to turn a corner here because of a change in the world, because of what's  happening in the government today. People are moved by this play and can identify with the play.  


TJ: You were both were obviously affected by the play itself and the character's inner emotions.  You can't just force that out.  It was just so evident that you became these people. 


LAURIA: With this writing, it is just so easy to ride with it and just let it happen. 


TJ: Did you always want to be an actor? 


LAURIA: No. I went to college on a football scholarship.  This older lady came by a practice, Constance Welch, a very famous woman who started the Yale Drama, and touched me on my football helmet. She asked me if I wanted to be in a play. Well, I said that I always wanted to do that and she said, "I know because I am the greatest acting teacher in the world."Well I said, "OK, but you'll have to wait till practice is over. What do you want me to do?" And she said that she needed a big ugly guy to play Caliban in THE TEMPEST. And after the first play, I thought this beats working, and so…. 


TJ: Have you written any plays? 


LAURIA :A couple, but I am not a writer who acts, I am an actor who writes. I only write for my friends. I've got a couple of films out there for option and if they can get the people I wrote for them, I'll make them. If not, I'll come back here and play for around with these guys. 


TJ: Now I understand that you go from coast to coast to work.  You do the TV and film work so you can do theatre?? 


LAURIA: I am one of those guys who goes out for pilot season and pray that I get a pilot.  And I have the last six years.  And if they don't run, I can take the money and go back and do theatre.  Every once in a while one of them will run, like I did HOOP LIFE on Showtime for a year.  


TJ: So theatre is your true love… 


LAURIA: If you want to be an actor, yeah. My mentors are Jack Klugman and Charlie Durning.  If I went a year without doing a play, I think they'd kill me. If either one of them comes to see this play, they won't say, "Great job!" They'll say, "You know that moment with the pepper. You know you put it to the side.Maybe you should have put it out." (laughs) 


TJ: When you go from TV to theatre, is it a big adjustment for you? 


LAURIA: I don't know too many stage actors who have a hard time doing television.  It's boring and it's long.  Television is just too easy.  The best moments that we had on THE WONDER YEARS, you never saw.  They edited and cut them.  I had scenes with Fred (Savage) where we brought the crew to tears.  And when I saw the edit, it went from his face to my face…the moment was cut.  The reason why Clint Eastwood wins awards is that he edits the least.  He still has respect for acting. He's like the old time directors …..tell a story!  The other guys are playing with machines and wondering why they don't win awards.  Theatre is in the moment. Elizabeth just got that speech three days ago and we're still working on the moments. 


TJ: That's funny because the moments are there from an audience point of view. 


ROSSA: You find more all the time because you're just there. And of course, like life, it's never exactly the same. I actually was a big proponent when Bill asked us if we would mind if he went back to the play and did some rewrites in Trenton.  And I said, "OK, bring it on!"It was exciting for us!!  


LAURIA: Ten minutes before we went up, he asked me, "You want to try this line tonight?"  


ROSSA: Even on closing night in Trenton, we did a couple of new things.  I think it's done now. 


LAURIA: Yeah, I think they want to lock it in place. When you have a really great play and nice people to work with, you say, "OK let's go play..".  And that's what it is, playing, we're having a good time…it's not work. The worst thing is to be in a bad play where the people you work with don't get along.  Then it's work. 


TJ: The play is not just emotionally tough, but physically for you. 


LAURIA: I'm getting too old for this but it's a great piece and I am glad we are doing it here in NY.  We'll see what happens? 


TJ: Well, I foresee a lot of good things happening for this show. 


LAURIA:   I hope so. From your lips to heaven's ear. 


ROSSA: I had been after Bill to produce this play for so many years. He held it very close to his heart as it's written about his father. In his mind's eye, he had always wanted Al Pacino to play the role when he was really young. Years later when I got to know him, I told him I wanted to do this play before I die.He said that if I could get Al Pacino to play the father. Two years later, Bill called and said that the person he wanted to play the father was Dan Lauria. He said if I could get it to him and he would do the role, it's a go. Bill was that protective and focused about this play so if Dan hadn't done the play, it wouldn't have been done. 


LAURIA: And we're not worried about the audience. 90% of the audience laugh and cry during the show and just get it. The critics…who knows..But the audience is who we are doing the show for at every performance. 


TJ: OK. Now we let the readers find out more about you so I am asking you both about five of your FAVORITE THINGS. Ready? 

LAURIA: OK. (to Rossa) You first. 

TJ: Alright. FAVORITE DESTINATION 

ROSSA: Tula, Mexico. 

LAURIA: Theatre. 

TJ: FAVORITE TIME OF YEAR. 

ROSSA: December in New York. 

LAURIA: The fall. I always do the foliage thing. 

TJ: FAVORITE BOOK. 

ROSSA:My favorite classical novel is ANNA KARENINA.  

LAURIA:Somerset Maugham's THE RAZOR'S EDGE

TJ: FAVORITE ACTOR. 

ROSSA: Meryl Streep. Also Jessica Lange is a big favorite of mine. Then I really love Cate Blanchette and Toni Collette

LAURIA: Living….Charles Durning and Jack Klugman.  Then of course, Robert Mitchum and Jimmy Stewart. 

TJ: Final question. And I changed it from what I was going to ask but here goes. OK, if you couldn't be an actor, what would you be doing? 

LAURIA: Writing. If I couldn't act, I would write for actors. 

ROSSA: If you had asked me pre-911, I would have a different answer.  I started making some shifts in my personal life post-911 and my yoga ractice led me to substitute teaching, which led me to teaching which led me to taking a hiatus from acting which led me to owning a yoga studio in Tribeca. 

LAURIA: She loves being here. She's five minutes from the studio. 

TJ:And I have loved talking with the both of you. Great success and longevity with the show!! 

So now you must be asking, "How can I get tickets to see A STONE CARVER at Off-Broadway's Soho Playhouse. Well, it runs through September 3rd and you can visit www.sohoplayhouse.com for tickets and more information. Again folks, don't miss this show…you won't be sorry.  For now, ciao and theatre is my life!! 


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