Reviewed by Joe Regan Jr.
The InViolet Theater Company was founded by an assembly of actors committed to generate original theater derived from an inviolate sense of truth. Members of the Company have won many Obie Awards. Their new production, “Branched,” is at the HERE space in lower Manhattan. “Branched,” by Company member Erin Mallon, is described as “A Comedy with Consequences” and is stunningly directed by Robert Ross Parker. The four actors are directed with robotic precision in a box set by Nick Francone with lots of moveable modules. If you’re a fan of Capek’s “R.U.R.” or Elmer Rice’s “The Adding Machine” or even Sophie Treadwell’s “Machinal” you’ll love this production.
The set up is an offbeat family: Husband (Andrew Blair,) wife (Tara Westwood,) a writer of sexual explicit manuals for women and men, and nine-year old son. Each night they perform an undressing ritual before dinner and the sexual coupling of the parents is programmed as well. The wife is pregnant and the son (played by a girl, Michelle David) is a non-conformist at school. His mother is upset when she discovers that he was fed Cheerios at school (because they do not eat grains). She goes to complain to the teacher and encounters a substitute, Belinda (Marguerite Stimpson). There is a bizarre birthing scene with the father and the son doing the birthing process with the mother at home, the mother demanding that the fiddling son play allegro on his violin during the birth.
From the moment of the birth, the play gets weirder and weirder. The infant is a plant, and every time it is carried on stage by the father or the mother, it grows bigger and bigger. The puppet design and construction is by David Valentine. The father has sex with the virgin school teacher and she insists on continuing the affair. The sexual activity is explicit to blackout moments. The son witnesses the affair and from that point on there are violent confrontations, with carefully choreographed stage movements. The ending is another surprising moment of violence calling to mind the shattering scene in that much censored Tolstoy play, “The Power of Darkness“ last revived at the Mint.