'Parenthood's' Matt Lauria talks 'Really Really': 'I've been in this vortex of obsession with this play'

matt-lauria-really-really.jpgMatt Lauria is best known for playing really decent guys. In his roles on TV's "Friday Night Lights," "Chicago Code," and "Parenthood," his characters have all been inherently good men with strong moral compasses that help them to navigate difficult issues and painful situations. In the off-Broadway play "Really Really," though, Lauria plays Davis, a college kid whose moral code is a little more ambiguous. What kind of person does he want to be?

 "At first, I thought, 'Audition for Johnson, because he's a straight-up guy, he's got a really strict moral code to which he adheres, and he's keeping his nose clean,'" admitted Lauria when we caught up with him after a performance this week. "But I decided to go for the character that was much more of a departure for me. In terms of the choices I make when I take roles, this broke some new ground for me and pushed me into an awkward area that I can live in for a while. Hopefully, the next project I take will do the same thing."

"Girls" star Zosia Mamet also takes a departure from her usual geeky-sweet roles for her current turn as Leigh, a girl determined to put her troubled past behind her and make a fresh start as she looks toward college graduation.

Written by Paul Downs Colaizzo, "Really Really" follows six college seniors -- from very different walks of life, and on very different trajectories -- in the aftermath of a party that began as your typical keg-and-beer-pong rager, but turns into something much more significant. The play starts off as a charming, hilarious, and realistic look at life as a college senior, staring down the murky tunnel of fast-approaching adulthood. It evolves into a powerful, heartrending examination of sex, privilege, loyalty, and power that will continue to claw at you long after you've left the theater.

During the party, Davis and Leigh disappeared into his bedroom. In the hungover light of morning, speculation about what happened behind his closed door reveals some powerful truths about Davis, Leigh, and their friends, as they're catapulted through a relentless emotional battle that is as exhausting for the actors as it is for the characters.

matt-lauria-zosia-mamet-really-really.jpg"My track in the play is such that -- and this is the case for everybody -- there is the opportunity to go to war in every single moment. There's never a scene that you can phone in and just arrive at easily. Even the simplest scene, at the beginning, where I'm hungover and I just walk in and sit on the couch and talk to my buddies, is still one of the hardest scenes for me. Every time, I walk off stage and go, 'Ugh.'"

Things get much, much more complicated for Davis than a casual, hungover, morning-after conversations with his buddies -- but in the interest of not spoiling the storyline, we'll leave it at that. Let's just say that Lauria admits that, when the lights come up at the end of the play, it can be a struggle for him to look happy through the bows... and when he goes home at the end of the night, the show stays on his mind.

"I've been in this vortex of obsession with this play. Every night, I think 'Man, that didn't go so well, how can I work that, or tweak that?' or 'Okay, that went kind of well, I feel good; how can I step it up to the next level?' Every night, I'm trying to go deeper emotionally," he says.

As the play heads into its final week, Lauria has been considering opportunities for his next project, but even that has been a bit of a struggle, given his single-minded focus on "Really Really." "I haven't had many auditions because I haven't had time to read scripts and prepare, but the ones I've gone in for, I feel like I've bombed," he says. "Because I just didn't have anything more of myself to offer. I go home and I think about this. I wake up and I think about this."

One might assume that after months of shows, the final week's run would be a piece of cake. "No, not at all," Lauria laughs. "It's only an opportunity to build. I've made so many little changes. Every night something is different because of my reaction to the other actor. Every night, we're all trying to elevate this."

The play got early buzz and strong reviews from critics, but Lauria says the thing that he'll take away from the experience isn't the acclaim, but the education. "It was everything that I had hoped it would be, and more," he says. "This experience went so far beyond my expectations. I was hoping to do something that was going to challenge me and teach me. I wanted it to force me to grow, and to force me into uncomfortable places. It's paid off. The residuals of this show are so, so much richer than I would've ever expected."

Produced by MCC Theater, "Really Really" runs through March 30 at the Lucille Lortel Theatre in the West Village. You won't want to miss the often hilarious, and at times deeply unsettling experience -- get tickets now before the show closes! MCC continues to bring television stars to the stage later this spring, when "The Office's" Jenna Fischer and "Popular" star Leslie Bibb debut in Neil LaBute's "Reasons to Be Happy."
Photo/Video credit: Janna Giacoppo
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