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Donna Hoke finds her voice as a playwright

For Buffalo playwright Donna Hoke, the theater is not a place to find easy answers.

Her 2010 play “The Couple Next Door,” produced at Road Less Traveled Theater, was about the vagaries of a quartet of swingers on Grand Island and seemed to perplex and intrigue audiences in equal measure. The play contained no cookie-cutter happy ending, no Hollywood-worthy conclusion – just a lot of moral questions lingering uncomfortably in the air.

That’s also likely to be the case for Hoke’s new play, “Seeds,” which deals with society’s expectations about procreation in some shocking and unexpected ways. The show, developed as part of the Road Less Traveled New Play Workshop, opens tonight in a production directed by Kristen Tripp Kelley.

“Parenthood is just fraught with all these expectations,” said Hoke, the mother of two sets of twins she had with the help of fertility treatments. “There’s always an expectation that everyone becomes a parent and then when people choose not to, some people get grief for that. There’s a stigma against women who choose not to have children, and then on the other hand there’s a stigma against women who get pregnant when they’re 16 years old. So it’s all about having to do it the right way, the accepted way.”

In Hoke’s world, where questions seem to be far more important than the answers and conventional wisdom is a quaint anachronism, there is no single accepted way.

The play focuses on twin sisters, one of whom has fallen out of love with the idea of giving birth after years of unsuccessful fertility treatments at the prodding of her progeny- obsessed husband. The other sister has three children by three separate men, which presents an entirely different moral quandary. When the idea of egg donor surrogacy arises, things get complicated.

“It’s a core part of our identity, whether you have children or how you have them or any of that. And we kind of just assume certain things about parenthood that don’t always end up being the case,” Hoke said. Her plays, she added, are “always about provoking thought in a certain area that people thought they were comfortable with and maybe making them see the other side.”

For Hoke, who returned to her childhood home of Buffalo from New Jersey in 2004 and has long worked as a freelance journalist for local and national publications, playwriting wasn’t on her radar until 2008. That year, she saw an ad for Road Less Traveled’s workshop, enrolled and went on a productive tear that has resulted in six full-length plays, more than a dozen short plays that have been produced around the world and two full-scale productions (including “Seeds”) at Road Less Traveled.

“I thought, I’m gonna try and write a play,” Hoke said of her experience with RLT co-founders Scott Behrend and Jon Elston’s New Play Workshop in 2008. “[I thought], I’ve been writing my whole life, maybe I can do this. So I got accepted into the workshop that year with a play called ‘Cockeyed Today,’ and the following year I workshopped ‘The Couple Next Door,’ which was the one they did. If that hadn’t happened, if I hadn’t had that early encouragement to say, ‘You have something here,’ I don’t know if I would have had the confidence to write things and to start submitting them outside of Buffalo.”

Hoke gave credit to Behrend and Elston, who invited her to be part of the theater’s inaugural ensemble last year.

“Jon especially is just a great advocate for playwrights in Buffalo, and he really encourages people to keep writing and has brought people along who may have given up,” she said. “Now, with the ensemble, I do feel like I have an artistic home.”

Behrend praised Hoke’s work ethic, her prolific output and her expanding influence on other local playwrights.

“We’re really happy to have her in the ensemble,” he said. “She’s setting the pace for our writers now.”


What: “Seeds”

When: 7:30 tonight through March 24

Where: Road Less Traveled Theater, Market Arcade Film and Arts Centre, 639 Main St.

Tickets: $17 to $32

Info: 629-3069 or [URL];http://www.roadlesstraveledproducitons