Buffalo’s Donna Hoke is not yet a household name. She’s working on it though.
Since 2008, when Hoke hesitantly submitted her first script to Scott Behrend and Jon Elston’s theater troupe, Road Less Traveled Productions, she has not stopped writing for the stage. Her full-length plays now number six and have been produced in 14 states and in at least three foreign countries. Hoke is also expert at creating short, 10-minute snippets and many of them dot one-act play festivals nationally. Additionally, Hoke contributes to and edits for various magazines – locally, Buffalo Spree – travels to see and often adjudicate college drama productions, designs crossword puzzles for major American dailies and has lately joined the children’s author ranks with “Neko and the Twiggets,” now in bookstores.
RLTP’s Behrend and Elston are two savvy theater guys and they recognize writing talent when they see it. Hoke’s style can be breezy, but it can bite. She invents well-constructed characters audiences identify with quickly: neighbors, co-workers, kin, kitchen-table-familiar folk, battling but loving siblings, favorite cousins. So, Hoke’s new play, “Seeds,” the second of her plays to emerge from a series of RLTP first readings, workshops and rewrites (the first was the acclaimed, if controversial, “The Couple Next Door”) is a play, notes Behrend, “right from our mission statement.”
Simply put, the instructional, observant and insightful “Seeds” is Hoke’s best work to date and it has just opened at RLTP’s home inside the Market Arcade Film and Arts Centre. Kristen Tripp Kelley directs a matchless ensemble: Kelly Jakiel, Diane Curley, Todd Benzin, Pamela Rose Mangus and Diane DiBernardo, a group comfortable with the offbeat and the right-on, perfectly, naturally bringing to life the characters Hoke has crafted with what keen and sensitive director Kelley calls “humor, wisdom and heart.”
“Seeds” is the very personal and intimate story of Marjorie and Aiden, two thirtysomethings once called DINKS – double income, no kids – pondering parenthood. He’s obsessed with being a dad, needs to be one, sperm count found able.
Marjorie’s not so sure. She’s a scientist and lives in a world of research and grants, long hours, cutting-edge stuff. She’s seen countless doctors about her apparent infertility, ultrasounded and probed ad infinitum. Marjorie likes her life as it is and motherhood is not a first choice.
Marjorie’s twin, Josephine, on the other hand, has three children by three different fathers. She can get pregnant with a handshake. So, the topic of Jo as a surrogate mother arises, is argued and agreed upon. Marjorie injects Aiden’s semen via a traditional surrogacy, “turkey baster insemination,” so to speak, at home. No surprise. It works.
From this point on, “Seeds” is full of crises, some foreseen, some not. Baby Joseph’s premature birth is complicated and prior arrangements – Who’s the aunt? Who’s the mother? – surface. There are blowups and meltdowns. “Babies can ruin relationships,” observes Kay, the twins’ caustic but wise mother. “Look at Josephine. Look at me. Look at Woody Allen.” Kay is often not much help but in crunch time she comes off like a sage.
Hoke is at work exploring decision-making, societal expectations and perceptions again in this important play, offering hope up though, suggesting that even looking for love in all the wrong places may turn out fine. Yet, “Seeds” doesn’t end without its share of red flags. Strong, moving words and deeds here, tease and surprise as well, marvelously acted by a well-chosen cast who teach us about themselves until the lights fade. Jakiel, Curley and Benzin are extraordinary; DiBernardo is full of brass and in-law Mangus is steady, honest and salt-of-the-earth.
Playwright Hoke also can be periodically found in the blogosphere. One of her recent chatty messages to her growing legion of fans ended with this: “Stay warm, writing.”
“Seeds” is growing proof that she should continue to follow her own advice.
When: Through March 24
Where: Road Less Traveled Theater, 639 Main St.
Info: 629-3069, www.road- lesstraveledproductions.com