Meanwhile Park to present new summer comedy ‘In Dogs We Trust’

Graphic: Meanwhile Park

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, June 13, 2024 (Gephardt Daily) — Theater and animal lovers will be in heaven this summer as local company Meanwhile Park presents the world premiere of “In Dogs We Trust” by Los Angeles-based playwright Thomas J. Misuraca.

Meanwhile Park was founded by Salt Lake City art and theater lover Jeff Paris in 2021; he has created a playing space in his own backyard. The space is designed so audience members can gather before the production for a pre-performance celebration which includes complimentary drinks and snacks; doors open at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are limited to 30 per performance, and the idea is that you socialise with your fellow theatergoers before the play begins. “From June to August” by Matthew Ivan Bennett was the first theater production from Meanwhile Park last summer; it has hosted dance companies in the past.

This year’s show goes July 11 through July 21, Thursdays through Sundays. Tickets are $36, and 100% of that goes to pay the actors, the playwright, and the creative staff. 

“In Dogs We Trust,” a story of neighbors, new love, and canine confusion, was selected as the winner of the 2024 Meanwhile Park Playwright Prize after over 170 submissions were reviewed. The play tells the story of Darryl and Noah, who after a successful first date, hit a roadblock as Noah accidentally takes the wrong pet home from the dog park. The park’s wacky regulars will help search for the lost dog, try to get Darryl and Noah back together, and eventually discover that these four-legged friends may be the solution to all their problems. The show will be directed by local triple-threat director, actor and playwright Tito Livas, and features James Wong, Trayven Call, Brien Keith, Blayne Wiley, Cami Rozanas and Brenda Hattingh Peatross.

Misuraca studied writing, publishing and literature at Emerson College in his home town of Boston. After graduation, he moved to California, where he splits his time between writing and graphic design. Over 150 of his one-act plays have been produced or stage read in the U.S., the U.K., Ireland, Canada and South Korea. Thirteen of his full-length plays have been staged in California, Nevada, Texas, Michigan and New York. His musical, “Geeks!” was produced Off-Broadway in 2019.

Thomas J Misuraca Photo Thomas J MisuracaFacebook

Livas has worked locally as an actor with companies including Pioneer Theatre Company, Salt Lake Acting Company, Plan-B Theatre, Utah Opera, and Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company. Nationwide, he has performed with the Idaho Shakespeare Festival, Walt Disney World, National Theatre for Children, TheatreWorks USA, and onboard Holland America and Princess Cruise Lines. Livas also can be seen in several Hallmark and Lifetime films, as well as quite a few national commercials and social media spots. When not on stage, he stays busy being a stay-at-home dad to two young boys.

We chatted with Livas from home in West Valley City and Misuraca from Honolulu, Hawaii, where he is working for three weeks. Misuraca said he was then traveling back east to visit family, then to New York for business, then Bermuda for a “real vacation.” We asked Misuraca if he is going to come to Salt Lake for any part of the production process.

“I’ll be there opening night, and I’ll be there second night as well,” he said.

We also asked him what inspired the play “In Dogs We Trust.”

Misuraca said: “I think it was shortly past COVID time, we were walking, doing our daily walk. Me and my partner and our friends Pete and Jack were in California, Hollywood area, Silver Lake to be specific. We kept walking by one of those dog parks, and I’m like, oh, kinda cute, dogs running ’round. And I said, you know what? This would be a perfect setting for a play because, you know, we’ve all done the plays in a restaurant, kitchen-sink plays. I’m always looking for a unique location, and the dog park is a great location. You don’t even have to show the dogs! You can just be like, oh, there’s a dog there, there’s a dog there. And it just started like that.”

We asked him if his writing flows pretty easily once he has the initial premise.

“I am very blessed that yes, once I start thinking of something, it comes pretty easily,” Misuraca said. “Yes, there’s always tons and tons of rewriting to make sure it’s perfect. But the actual storytelling comes pretty easy, even when I’m like, that’s not gonna quite work. Especially in this one, I have some characters that didn’t quite work, so I had to rewrite them a couple of times. Once I knew where they were going, they got there pretty easily. They’re some of my favorite characters. You’re like a mother or a father when you create something. People will be like, ‘what’s your favorite play’; like they all are, when I’m in it. And the characters, they all are, when I’m in it. So you know, it’s a little weirder when you go into production, because I wrote this play a couple of years ago, so I’ve gone on to not only work on different things and have other things produced, but now I’m like OK, let me go back and read it again, and I’m like, wow, I do adore these characters.”

Tito Livas Photo Tito LivasFacebook

We also asked him, given the subject matter of the play, whether he considers himself a dog person.

“I love dogs, you know. Anytime I’m in a room with a dog, it could be 30 other people in the room, I’m playing with the dog,” Misuraca said. “But I don’t own a dog, only because I travel a lot. And even at 55, I just don’t feel I can be responsible for a furry creature’s life. I feel that I would not be able to give a dog the attention that it needs; I’m gonna go to the theater ’til one in the morning for tech and be, like, the dog’s home.”

We asked the director, Livas, how he got involved with Meanwhile Park and what appealed to him about this play in particular.

“So, Jeff Paris, who’s the producer of it in his backyard, he knows [Plan-B Theatre artistic director] Jerry Rapier, and he reached out asking Jerry if there’s anybody he thought could and would be interested in directing this, and Jerry thought of me,” Livas said. “I read the script and I was like, this is super fun. It’s super sweet. You will almost never see a sweet, non-traumatic gay love story. It’s something that you would normally see through a straight lens, but this is a young, gay love story. And it was so cute. And it spoke to me on that level; being presented to people so that they can see, you know, love is love and we’re all just trying to find it.”

Livas explained that 50% of the cast is made up of people of color. “That was also something that I was really trying to do and make sure that we brought in representation as much as possible, particularly with our older couple, which I also love,” he said. “I love Bernard and Chester in the show, because it also shows that these two gay men have been together for decades and they are still together. They bicker just like you would see any straight couple bicker, but one of them is black, one of them is white, and I love having that diversity be represented, it’s just great.”

The cast goes into rehearsal Monday, June 17, he said, then the play will open just over three weeks later.

“That’s what I wanted,” Livas said. “I said, ‘I don’t want to take your summers away, so please come prepared, basically off-book, so that we can work on the relationships, dynamics, character building and just really get to work so that we can all continue to have a summer; come as prepared as possible. So that we can just go and jump in.”

Brenda Hattingh Peatross and Josh Richardson in last years show From June to August Hattingh Peatross will also be in this years show Photo Meanwhile ParkJacob Harrison

We also asked Livas, because he wears so many different creative hats, whether he has a favorite out of directing, acting or writing, or whether he enjoys jumping from thing to thing.

“I love to jump from thing to thing,” he said. “My mind is just working in so many different ways all the time. So I like it. I like things to change. I don’t like things to be the same. Being able to direct lets me put on a different hat. It lets me see things differently. It sparks more creativity in different ways. And I love that, because I feel like it makes me well-rounded in every aspect of the arts. And that’s really what I like to be, so that I can understand when I’m working on a show, where basically everybody is coming from, because I think that promotes a better environment in which to work.”

We asked playwright Misuraca what he could tell us about what he’s working on currently.

“I’m working on a full-length play. I don’t like to tell too many tales outside of school,” he said. “I’m going to back up a little bit. So yeah, the reason I wrote ‘In Dogs we Trust’ was because I really wanted to write a comedy. Because the play I wrote before that was a comedy, but it was a comedy about death. And I told myself I wasn’t gonna write stories about death or writers anymore. And then I’m home for three weeks. My mom had like a compressed fracture of her spine; she wasn’t doing very well. So I was staying there extra time. My poor aunt was in the hospital dying of variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease of all things, it was terrible. So I’m like, I’m not gonna write about death or writers, so of course, I write a story about a writer who dies and his partner hires a ghostwriter to take over all the stuff that he left unfinished. And I loved it, it was called ‘Ghosting,’ and it was the first full-length play ever that I can recall that literally, I sent it to the Overtime Theater in Texas, for the possibility of a reading, and they loved it so much, they offered to produce it.

“I hadn’t even done my own personal reading yet. I was like, shall I cancel my reading? At the end of my reading I made the announcement that it’s going to be produced. So long story longer, I’m like, I’m doing a comedy, for sure I’m doing a comedy, so I’m like dogs, funny funny; funny characters, OK. So, I guess I just can’t write just a comedy, I always have some kind of meaning in there. Within ‘In Dogs We Trust’ we touch upon aging and homelessness and responsibility and stuff like that. So, I’m like OK, but at least there’s a lot of laughs along the way. So, to answer your question, the next thing I’m like, what’s the big thing I’m dealing with now in life? It’s you know, we’re getting older. We look at the decisions that we made in life. What if you have the chance to do it all again, what would you do differently? That’s the story that I’m working on right now. It’s a big second-chance story with perhaps a bit of a sci-fi element, too.”

Tito Livas Photo Tito LivasFacebook

We also asked Misuraca and Livas what, other than theater, brings them joy.

“My children; my two little baby boys,” Livas said. “They’re not really babies anymore, but they are my babies. They absolutely bring me much, much joy and being away from them for two months in New York was quite a lot. I was working with the Billie Holiday Theatre; it was a great opportunity and I met some amazing people, but being away from the boys was pretty heart-wrenching for me. I’ve never been more grateful for modern technology, because of that, thankfully, I was able to FaceTime the boys and they were able to see me, so it wasn’t like I was absent in their lives. We have a couple of Oculus [headsets], so the virtual reality games, and I was able to play miniature golf with my 7-year-old while I was away. We would have our avatars and we’d be able to talk and have conversations while we’re playing mini golf on the same course, and we can see each other and hear each other and it made the time away much more bearable.”

Misuraca said: “I love music, still sort of an ’80s boy, a little on the goth side. I went to see The Cure last summer, I went to the Cruel World festival [in Pasadena] where the headliner was the Tones on Tail reunion; they went up against Duran Duran so I had to make Sophie’s choice. I don’t know if you know Ministry, they did all this synth-pop stuff, which they’ve never done. It was like a momentous occasion. So yeah, music is a big, big thing in my life; concerts, albums, collecting music. I still love to buy music, especially from small bands. I think it’s important to support them. I don’t agree that streaming is the way of the future; I’ve worked too hard on my collection.

“So yeah, music is a big thing. I know reading is not too far off from being a writer or creative, but I do love to read. I’m like, we’re going to Hawaii, I think four nearly 1,000-page books should be enough. Ironically, what I usually wouldn’t answer up until COVID; I fell off the yoga practice, and I wasn’t one of those people who was able to do it at home. So I kind of just fell away from it for a couple of years. But now I’m here — every morning we’ve been getting up and doing yoga. I love being back into that. And then I just started doing a little cocktail mixing, to try to get rid of all the alcohol we had in the house [during COVID], for those two weeks that were locked down and then, two years later, I’m a hopeless alcoholic,” [he joked.]

I asked if he has a favorite cocktail to make.

“It’s the simplest one,” Misuraca said. “It’s the Godfather; it’s Amaretto and whiskey. And then if you want a little buzz and you know your ’70s movies and novels, you do the Death of a Godfather — you add some orange, like a Triple Sec or a Grand Marnier to the whiskey and Amaretto.”

Thomas J Misuraca Photo Thomas J MisuracaFacebook

We asked Misuraca finally if he were to have dinner with a handful of playwrights, alive or dead, who he would invite and where he would take them.

“Well, definitely Oscar Wilde would be on that list,” he said. “William Shakespeare, Neil Simon and Samuel Beckett. I would probably take them to an all-you-can-eat sushi place. Or, can I give two answers? I would just have them over and make my famous meatballs. And spaghetti. Yeah, maybe we’ll just do that, have them over for spaghetti and meatballs, and you’ve got to make The Godfather, because that’s very Italian.”

We also asked founder of Meanwhile Park, Jeff Paris, why “In Dogs We Trust” particularly stood out.

“In terms of choosing the play, we had over 170 entries this year which I narrowed down to 10 that our reading committee reviewed and scored,” Paris told us. “This play got the second highest score. But that really wasn’t the reason I wanted to produce the play. I loved that this comedy features a young gay couple trying to figure out love and relationships in a crazy world. AND there was an aging gay couple who have been figuring out love and relationships for a very long time. I also loved the community aspect of this play — that a bunch of neighborhood mismatched characters can all come together to help each other out, solve real problems, and make everyone’s life better. It’s a story that I hope will resonate in our current political and social climate. And also, DOGS!

“Why didn’t I choose the play that got the most votes? Well, we’ll be producing it next summer. It’s a play called ‘Red Devil’ by Andrea Berting that is a wonderful short play about three women dealing with cancer.  It’s short, so we’re pairing it with a play called ‘Vacation’ by Nathan Johnson. We had so many good plays submitted this year, I didn’t really want to let them go unproduced.”

For more information and for tickets “In Dogs We Trust,” click here.

The Meanwhile Park playing space Photo Meanwhile Park


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