Bleak Family Comedy in REGRETFULLY, SO THE BIRDS ARE — Review
There is a dark, bleakly funny core to Julia Izumi’s new play, Regretfully, So the Birds Are, now at Playwrights Horizons in a co-production with WP Theater. Three grown siblings, all adopted from Asia by a white American couple—dad is an orientalist fetishist barely beating pedophile allegations; mom is an opioid addict—find their lives further upended when mom sets dad on fire, landing her in jail and him underground. And then the two younger ones start hooking up.
Though, while inventively directed by Jenny Koons and with a fun storybook set by You-Shin Chen, Koons seems afraid of leaning all the way into the delicious pitch black essence of the fractured family she’s created. There are well-earned jokes about Pol Pot, “found family,” and performative wokeness aplenty, indicating a playwright confident in her right to weave a proper fable, but its silliness isn’t a pointed escapist departure from its darkness, and often feels like it’s twee for cuteness’ sake. The spirit of their father, for example, lives on and holds court, rather randomly, from the body of a snowman (played by Gibson Frazier). The chance to fully contrast the childishness of his new form with the crookedness of his being is left unexplored, the balance of immaturity tipped over by the style of the performances, which often border on Disney Channel levels of look-at-me yelling.
But the actors are all game and along for the ride, especially Sasha Diamond as the high-strung Illy, who finds the Type A way to rationalize shacking up with the dim-witted Neel (Sky Smith), and the ever-brilliant Shannon Tyo as Mora, her older sister. Pearl Sun brings gravity and wearied grace to her role as Srey, a character who enters the story late in the play.
At just under 90 minutes, it all feels both narratively stuffed and thematically undercooked, but Izumi has created a memorable work of juicy, contentious fiction and found the right creative team to bring it to life.
Regretfully, So the Birds Are is in performance through April 30, 2023 at Playwrights Horizons on 45th Street in New York City. For tickets and more information, visit here.