Hoke on SONS & LOVERS
Photo by kc kratt
Resident and ensemble playwright at Road Less Traveled Productions, Donna Hoke’s work has been seen in forty states and on five continents. Plays include The Couple Next Door (Princess Grace semifinalist), Safe (winner of the Todd McNerney, Naatak, and Great Gay Play and Musical Contests), the Artie-winning Seeds, and Elevator Girl (2017 O’Neill finalist). Hoke serves on the Dramatists Guild Council and also as Western New York regional representative. Hoke’s new play, Sons & Lovers, is premiering at Buffalo United Artists. Senior editor Wendy Guild Swearingen spoke with Hoke about her latest work.
Tell me what the play is about.
The official synopsis is in the “Buffalo Premiers” story on page 34. Thematically, it speaks to what we each have to negotiate and/or give up in our relationships in order to be satisfied. And it’s a comedy.
How did you come up with the concept for this play? Is the title a reference to D. H. Lawrence’s novel of the same name?
Three of the characters were originally part of a ten-minute play that ran in BUA Takes 10: GLBT Short Stories in 2015; it was called Best Interests and featured Caitlin Coleman and Kevin Craig as mother and son attracted to the same waiter. Javier Bustillos, the artistic director of Buffalo United Artists, thought my writing voice was a good fit for Caitlin’s acting voice, and, as Caitlin is a company member at BUA, wondered if I could expand this ten-minute piece into a vehicle for Caitlin.
Originally, the title—which was probably the most difficult title I’ve ever tried to come up with—was Open and Shut, but I never loved it and it never felt right. Then the play had a reading in Florida at Island City Stage, and the things I learned from that reading, and the revisions that resulted, made it easy to come up with a much more appropriate title, Sons & Lovers. Definitely with an ampersand.
A few people have asked about a possible connection to the novel; there isn’t one, other than in college, a friend once inscribed something to me: “To the big DH, not Lawrence.” But, interestingly, if you go look at the first sentences of a Sons and Lovers synopsis—e.g., Gertrude Morel has an unhappy marriage to coal miner Walter Morel in the English town of Bestwood. She is most devoted to her eldest son, William—there are similarities! The son’s name is even Bill, which was total coincidence, because I haven’t read Lawrence’s novel since high school. But, the play is far less tragic than the novel.
Do you identify with any of the characters in particular?
It’s easy to say that I have the most in common with Ellen, but, as with any play, every character is me in different form, and people can usually pick that up.
What’s it like working at BUA?
My first full-length production in Buffalo—The Couple Next Door, which has been running almost four years in Romania—was at Road Less Traveled Productions for the 2010 Curtain Up! I’ve had shorts produced at Subversive, Alleyway, and BUA, but this is the first full-length that I’ve had at a theater other than Road Less Traveled, which also produced Seeds in 2013 and Safe in 2016. So, it’s kind of cool that this show is also for Curtain Up! as it marks a first of a different kind.
I’m grateful to Javier not just for producing the play, but for its very existence! I never would have thought to expand the original short. Comedy is never something I start out to write, but, because the tone of this play was set in that ten minutes, it was easier to continue with it, and I’m happy with the result. Without his push, it never would have happened.
Donna Hoke is Spree’s Home editor and writes about theater for Spree and Forever Young. For more information on her work, visit donnahoke.com.