Meanwhile Park set for world premiere of Thomas Misuraca’s gay romantic comedy In Dogs We Trust

The splendid Meanwhile Park outdoor theatrical venue will be the site for the upcoming world premiere of Thomas Misuraca’s In Dogs We Trust, a gay romantic comedy set in a West Hollywood dog park.

The play by Misuraca, a Los Angeles-based playwright whose short- and full-length plays have been produced internationally, was selected by a jury for the Meanwhile Park Playwright Prize from among more than 170 submissions. Meanwhile Park is a theatrical project produced by Jeff Paris, who has created a professional theatrical space to produce top-quality works in the backyard of his Salt Lake City home.

Tom Misuraca

This is the second consecutive summer for a world premiere at Meanwhile Park. Last year, it was From June to August, a one-act romantic comedy by Matthew Ivan Bennett and directed by Jason Bowcutt. This year’s prize competition brought triple the number of submissions, compared to 2023. Last year’s inaugural Meanwhile Park production also was selected by The Utah Review as one of the top 10 moments of the Utah Enlightenment for 2023. 

This unique outdoor theatrical experience is an ideal showcase for chamber theater intimacy and In Dogs We Trust, directed by Tito Livas, the script is astute, intuitive and grounded in subtle shading and texturing of a bounty of humor by incorporating an equal volume of sensitive acknowledgments about new as well as enduring relationships.

Directed by Tito Livas, the production features six actors, who appear variously on four consecutive Sunday mornings at the dog park. Darryl and Noah are continuing what obviously was a successful first date from the previous evening. Darryl, an Asian man in his late twenties, is delighted that his dog, Josie, has taken to Noah, a gay man of color who is a few years older and is obviously an animal lover. Both men are successful professionals in their respective fields. Meanwhile, Chester and Bernard are an older gay couple, who relish having their radar trained on all gay happenings in the neighborhood community. While Chester frets that he might be missing out on the fun that any healthy older gay man would enjoy, he also has taken on the role of caring for Bernard, whose memory loss is a sign of the dementia that is settling into his life. 

The script sets up a substantial, thoughtful counterpoint about legacies, relationships and the queer community. Likewise, there are two other characters who add their counterpoint to the narrative mix, particularly in matters of social conscience and humane compassion. Starrr (yes, the three r’s are deliberate) is a middle-age woman who unabashedly proclaims her dual roles as social activist and New Ager while Amber is a financially struggling woman who embodies the Goth culture and is hoping to eke out a living by starting a business as a dog walker. Even with these layers of intertwined themes, the play will clip along at a brisk pace, running close to the desired 70 minutes.

Tito Livas.

In Dogs We Trust is Misuraca’s 14th full-length play to receive its premiere production. A longer version of the play received second place honors last year in the Robert J. Pickering/J.R. Colbeck Award for Playwriting Excellence. 

In an interview with The Utah Review,  Misuraca said that he saw the Meanwhile Park call for submissions on a New York City-based daily blog about theater and calls for new works. To make the script fit the desired 70 minutes in length, he trimmed it accordingly. “Editing it down was the best thing and I took out unnecessary back-and-forth banter and some of the clunkier lines that didn’t serve the story,” he added.

Misuraca, who counts Neil Simon and Samuel Beckett among his inspiring role models, said the genesis for In Dogs We Trust came more than two and a half years ago when outdoor walks were still popular during the pandemic and many plays were being produced either via Zoom or outdoors. The idea for the play came to him while he and his partner, along with a friend, regularly passed by the dog park in the Silver Lake community of Los Angeles (however, he decided to use West Hollywood for the narrative’s setting).

The characters are not based specifically on people Misuraca has known but he constructed their amalgams with little hairline bits of personality traits and experiences culled from routinely observing humans and dogs.

James Wong
Trayven Call.

Misuraca said he enjoys the challenge of writing zany and frothy comedies that still have room to deal with the gravitas and realities of important social issues that have a slice-of-life impact. Among his favorites which also is among his most widely produced shows is Geeks!, a 2019 musical that had its premiere Off-Broadway, about socially awkward fans from the world of Comic-Cons that also was an homage to the successful The Big Bang Theory sitcom.

In Dogs We Trust, Misuraca diligently gives each of the six characters their comedic moments in the sun. These include Darryl, who can be a little too uptight at times;  Bernard, whose memory might be fading but his timing for the perfect line is still there, or Amber, whose quite pathetic and dire circumstances still leave enough space for a choice bit of humor. Likewise, Noah, Chester and even Starr, who is so comically obsessed with her activism that she is oblivious to her surroundings, have their respective moments of emotional gravitas interspersed with their ample shares of humor.  

Brien Keith
Blayne Wiley.

In an interview with The Utah Review, Livas, who is well known as a stage actor and has numerous credits in commercials and television plus has written short plays, said he loves having the opportunity to direct this play in a space that accentuates “realistic relationships in a very intimate space.” He added, “It’s important to see a gay love story that doesn’t have to deal with trauma or tragedy because people rarely see this kind of story.”

Livas explained the play comes at a timely moment in this sharp, divisive political climate where some insist on rolling back the gains in rights for same-sex couples and on invalidating the enlightened affirmation of same-sex relationships. 

Livas noted that a challenge with this play is not to aim and force the full impact of the humor which comes through consistently in the script but to let it flow as naturally as possible. There are plenty of double entendres and lines that draw mischievous winks, especially in the opening pages of the script. 

Cami Rozanas

He referred to the corn dog as a metaphor, as a guide for achieving the balance between the humor and the realities associated with each character that Misuraca has drawn. “There always is a little bit of truth inside,” he explained. “A corn dog is not good enough with the fried batter but it is the wiener inside that really matters. Bring more wiener into the corn dog and you have a human character that really connects in the story.” 

As for casting, Livas said that he is pleased to see how members of the BIPOC acting community came out to audition for this play. Just as diversity in site-specific performance venues has expanded nicely in recent years, he added that parallel efforts to bring diversified representation in artists to such stages are encouraging to observe.

The cast features James Wong (Darryl), Brenda Hattingh Peatross (Starrr), Cami Rozanas (Amber), Travyen Call (Noah), Brien Keith (Chester) and Blayne Wiley (Bernard).

Rounding out the production crew are Emily Kitterer (stage manager), Bubba Palmer (lighting director), Steve Hansen (design director) and PJ Kelsch (costume design)

Tickets for opening week are sold out but tickets are available for July 18-21. Please note that this is a private ticket event and is open to those 21 and older. For more information, see the Meanwhile Park website

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