Blog Less Traveled: Interview with ‘Seeds’ playwright Donna Hoke
blog by Scott Behrend • March 13, 2013 @ 2:46pm
We opened the world premiere of Seeds last week at the Road Less Traveled Theater (639 Main St., Buffalo), and reception of this new play by Western New York playwright (and RLTP ensemble member) Donna Hoke has been really gratifying.
Ted Hadley from The Buffalo News awarded Seeds four stars out of four and praised its “...excellent acting (and) writing.” Audiences also seem to be almost unanimously moved and provoked by this intensely personal yet funny play.
I checked in with Donna Hoke to talk more in depth about Seeds.
Scott Behrend: You developed “Seeds” in RLTP’s Emanuel Fried New Play Workshop. In what ways did the material evolve through the NPW and into pre-production and rehearsal?
Donna Hoke: As seems to be my process, Seeds had a lot of mental evolution before I started writing it. At first, there was a very basic idea of a man falling in love with a surrogate. Then I thought: what if they were sisters? Then, what if they were twins? And once I hit on the identical twin idea, the falling in love idea fell away, because I got intrigued with the whole idea of nature vs. nurture, expectation vs. reality and different permutations of parenthood and their effects on our identities. When I actually started writing it, those ideas just became stronger.
Once in the workshop, I got a variety of feedback that led to the creation of the final two scenes, as well as the critical, penultimate Act One scene between Marjorie and Aidan. And from the reading, I got very important feedback about changing the nature of who knows what, when, and if at all, which was very important for the play’s credibility. It works so much better the way you see it now. By the time we got to rehearsal, it was just line tweaks. We were in very good shape.
SB: Kristen Tripp-Kelley has been attached to the project since the first NPW reading, though initially as an actor. She felt so passionate about the material, though, that I asked her to direct this production. What has she brought to the process that’s been essential or unique?
DH: Kristen is amazing and a true collaborator. Everybody on the Seeds team has been so utterly impressed with her efficiency and attention to detail… even more so by her creativity with and commitment to this play. Her work shows in every single scene, and when I watch, especially some of the trickier scenes, I think back to rehearsal and how she addressed this problem or that problem, and let the actors figure things out and make mistakes until they hit on the perfect solution. She left nothing untouched and it all works. One of the actors told me she had never felt so ready for an opening, and that’s a testament to Kristen.
SB: I feel very fortunate that we managed to assemble three actresses—Diane Curley and Kelly Jakiel as the twin sisters, Marjorie and Josephine, and Diane DiBernardo as their mother, Kay—who not only are terrifically capable in their roles, but who manage to actually credibly resemble one another.
DH: Diane Curley and Kelly Jakiel were my first choices to play the twins. Diane was Josephine in the reading (and Kristen was Marjorie), but in casting the production and going for lookalikes, it made more sense to cast it the way we did. We were fortunate that they were both available. Kelly even went so far as to send an audition video because she was on a cruise for six months. We were stuck on Kay for a while, but then Diane DiBernardo - who only recently moved back to town - breezed through the door… and the family was perfectly complete.
SB: I recall that it just seemed very important that we create and sustain the illusion that Diane and Diane and Kelly all clearly shared the same genetics…
DH: I knew that it would be very unlikely that I would ever GET identical twins to play those roles, so I tried to address this textually… you see one first, then the other, and when you finally see them together, they are dressed identically and talk about being identical twins as they morph into the very different adults they’ve become. Feedback seems to indicate that this has paid off, and people totally bought them as identical twins, which is critical to the story from both plot and thematic perspectives.
Having a believable threesome is important, because Marjorie and Josephine are two sides of the same maternal coin, and by the end of the play, we see Kay bifurcated into her two daughters’ personalities, as well. This all plays so much better when you don’t just feel the connection between the actors, but see it. That we could accomplish this given the constraints of a local talent pool being spread across so many theaters was beautiful kismet.
SB: RLTP often produces topical material… but I feel like Seeds is resonating with an especially broad range of people, and deeply. Why do you think this is?
DH: After the reading, several women told me they found the play very affecting, especially if they’d experienced fertility issues, but I think I expected that from women. What surprises me is how many men have told me they’ve found it powerful. I’m of course happy to hear this and can only guess that parenthood, whether you are a parent or just have a parent, is such a deeply personal issue that everybody sees something on stage that resonates.
SB: What can theatergoers who check out and enjoy Seeds expect from you in the future?
DH: I’m workshopping a new play, Safe, in this year’s NPW. The main character is the mother of a bully. My friend Matthew Crehan Higgins and I are finishing up choosing the pieces for the second installment of BUA Takes 10: LGBT Short Stories, which will run for four weeks this year in June and July. And fellow playwrights Jon Elston, Darryl Schneider, Steve Roylance and I are cooking up something really fun for Infringement! I also have a few short plays being produced around the country, and a play in Buffalo Rises!, the collection of short plays that RLTP will be opening for Curtain Up! 2013.
Also, I’m co-hosting a WNY Dramatists Guild meeting at 2:30 PM on March 23, at the Road Less Traveled Theater, with Ithaca/CNY rep Aoise Stratford. We did the same meeting in Ithaca on March 4th, and it was very successful. All playwrights are welcome, whether they’re Guild members or not, and we’ll be sharing a lot of strategies and information about getting plays out into the universe, as well as some exciting stuff that is happening with the Guild. Afterwards, we’re doing and optional dinner… and seeing Seeds (at a discounted Guild rate!).
Seeds runs through Sunday, March 24 at the Road Less Traveled Theater. Tickets and more info are available online at www.roadlesstraveledproductions.org.