The University’s own Stand Up Productions put on a staged reading of the play “Treetops” on Monday March 20. The play was written by Joe Reault, a junior at the University, and directed by senior Linnea Sumner. The cast was made up of University students as well, including Preston Fox, Erin DiIorio, Cydnie Hampton, Rob Milano, Jessica Ryan, Nick McNeil, and Zach Carter. Writer Reault told The Pace Press, “Huge shout-out to everyone at Stand-Up Productions, particularly Matt Malloy, Katie Swonger, and Madi Hall.”
It was free to attend, but audience members were asked to donate at the door if they could afford to. All of the proceeds benefited the Literacy for Incarcerated Teens program, the only non-profit organization of its kind working to end illiteracy among New York’s incarcerated young people
The reading took place in the SDACA lounge on the 8th floor of 41 Park Row, and almost every seat was filled. Though there was not really a cohesive set (as it was a reading and not a full-fledged play), the production was well put on. Lighting and sound effects were put to good use throughout, simple as they may have been.
“Treetops” is about the Neuhaus family’s struggles in dealing with the approaching death of the mother Laurie (Hampton). Son Benji (Fox) decides to have a child with his husband Theo (McNeil) in one last attempt to give his mother a grandchild before her passing. Benji reaches out to his old high school friend Siobhan (DiIorio) to be their surrogate, and she quickly bonds with Benji’s younger sister Cara (Ryan), who must deal with struggles of her own. The family has to learn to deal all of these issues, and Benji begins to realize that being the perfect son may not be the best thing.
The performance was heartfelt and deep, provoking real emotions from everyone in the audience. Many students said that tears were shed near the ending. However, the play remained light-hearted enough through the use of dark humor and fantastic acting. The comedic timing of every actor was incredible, especially Fox, DiIorio, Milano, and Carter. University student Elizabeth Reilly was inspired by the show, just as the cast and crew hoped. “It didn’t feel like a reading,” she expressed on Facebook. Reilly gave her props to the whole cast as well as Sumner for her “incredible eye for detailed engineering created beautiful images,” and Reault for “his incredible talent in developing this poignant yet side-splitting play.”
The inspiration for this touching piece comes from the writer’s own personal experiences. “‘Treetops’ is inspired by my own family, in a way. I’m gay, I have one younger sister, and my mother has an incurable kidney disease, but it is yet to impact our lives. The similarities stop there, but ‘Treetops’ was my rendering of what could one day happen to my family,” Reault said.
The piece was first imagined last year when Reault was enrolled in Professor Bureen Ruffin’s Art of Memoir class at the University. He had begun writing about his family for the first time, and it surely proved to work for him by drawing on his experiences and fears for his family while bringing his unique sense of humor into the piece. However, without the need to turn in the project for the class, Reault wasn’t sure “Treetops” would have come to fruition. “The biggest obstacle I ran into was actually sitting down to write—I could spend years conceptualizing a piece in my head, but I never put pen to paper without a deadline!”
Reault hopes that “Treetops” shows people how comedy can be therapeutic, even in the most serious of circumstances. “I want people to leave ‘Treetops’ feeling like they watched real people deal with loss in a real way. [His family] copes with almost everything through humor, and I wanted to show how cathartic that can be.”
One thing was certain as students left the SDACA lounge with tears in their eyes and smiles on their faces: they hope “Treetops” soon becomes a fully staged production so they can take the rollercoaster ride one more time.
Photo courtesy of the author