Off-Off-Broadway Theater Review: BRANCHED, A COMEDY WITH CONSEQUENCES (InViolet Repertory Theater at HERE Arts Center)

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by Dmitry Zvonkov on February 20, 2014

in Theater-New York

A STUMP

Sitting through Erin Mallon’s 90-minute play Branched, A Comedy with Consequences, I found myself envying the gentleman who, silently and with the upmost discretion, managed to sneak out of the theater during one of the scene changes; 15 minutes in it is painfully clear that nothing worthwhile will happen on this stage.

Tara Westwood , Andrew Blair & Margurite Stimpson in BRANCHED, A COMEDY WITH CONSEQUENCES, InViolet Repertory Theater Off-Off-Broadway at HERE Arts Center.

The idea at the center of Ms. Mallon’s script, which is that Tamara (pronounced TAM-uh-ruh), the pregnant matriarch of a family of three, unexpectedly gives birth to a leafy wooden thing with ivy-like limbs, sounds intriguing. Unfortunately nothing is made of it except in the last minute or so of the play. Most of the other 89 minutes are dedicated to making fun of Tamara (Tara Westwood), a Park Slope helicopter mom who writes advice books and plays Tony Robbins for her baby in utero.

Michelle David, Andrew Blair & Tara Westwood in BRANCHED, A COMEDY WITH CONSEQUENCES, InViolet Repertory Theater Off-Off-Broadway at HERE Arts Center.

We see Tamara complimenting her five-year-old son Ben (Michelle David) on improving his self-criticism skills; see her informing Ben’s teacher Belinda (Marguerite Stimpson) that Ben is on a strict Paleolithic diet, and berating her for allowing Ben to consume O’s cereal with milk that his classmate shared with him; and we watch as she insists on quoting an erotic passage from her own book to her husband Martin (Andrew Blair) immediately prior to coitus, which they perform once a week according to schedule.

Michelle David , Margurite Stimpson  & Andrew Blair in BRANCHED, A COMEDY WITH CONSEQUENCES, InViolet Repertory Theater Off-Off-Broadway at HERE Arts Center.

There are a lot of similar jokes in Branched, many of which might have worked were any effort made to create grounded, relatable characters and a dramatic story with obstacles for them to overcome. As is, one finds oneself laughing more from exasperation than joy. This in no small part is due to Robert Ross Parker’s poor helmsmanship. Mr. Parker directs every moment of this show for comedic effect. For an hour and a half it feels like he’s shouting: “LAUGH! THIS IS A COMEDY! IT’S FUNNY! LAUGH! LAUGH!” Perhaps if he’d spent more time working out beats, motivations, and relationships he’d actually have earned some of the laughs he’s so desperately trying to get.

Margurite Stimpson  & Andrew Blair in BRANCHED, A COMEDY WITH CONSEQUENCES, InViolet Repertory Theater Off-Off-Broadway at HERE Arts Center.

Branched is half-baked. It feels like both writer and director go with the first ideas that come to mind, never examining if these are any good or if there are better alternatives. That said – and if one forgets for a moment that mothers like Tamara in fact do not give birth to leafy green things with branches for limbs but to beautiful, confident, savvy and successful children – one can see a kernel of inspiration here. It’s only visible for a moment in the last minute or so of the show, like a spark, but it’s something. And it might be worth it for Ms. Mallon to explore that, to think of Branched as a disposable draft and to try and grow something new and worthwhile from that kernel.

Andrew Blair, Michelle David & Margurite Stimpson in BRANCHED, A COMEDY WITH CONSEQUENCES, InViolet Repertory Theater Off-Off-Broadway at HERE Arts Center.

photos by Jason White

Branched, A Comedy with Consequences
InViolet Repertory Theater
HERE Arts Center, 145 Avenue of Americas
scheduled to end on March 8, 2014
for tickets, call 212-352-3101 or visit www.here.org

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