The Citiblog

Review: What Became of Us is a Touching Two-hander
June 4, 2024, 9:44.29 pm ET


Photo: Ahron Foster

By Brian Scott Lipton

A pair of characters listed in the Playbill simply as “Q” and “Z.” A set (by Tonya Orellana) consisting only of a large white projection screen and gray slab-like piece of playground or gymnastic equipment. A title: “What Became of Us.” Anyone else ready to settle in at the Atlantic Theater Company Stage 2 for an evening of dystopian gloom and doom?

Well, if that’s your thing, you’re about to be disappointed by Shayan Lofti’s touching 75-minute two-hander, seemingly set in a peaceful here and now, detailing the differing lives yet ultimately unbreakable bond between two siblings. Simply yet smartly directed by Jennifer Chang, this poetic work speaks to all of us who have had to navigate complicated familial relationships.

Told primarily in monologue, sometimes referring to other characters in the third person (a style that admittedly takes some getting used to), Lofti’s celebration and rumination on both the big and small moments and memories of his two characters – and to some extent, their unseen parents -- are brough vividly to life by the engaging yet completely down-to-earth Rosalind Chao and the more emotional and flamboyant B.D. Wong. Indeed, the pair’s chemistry is so palpable I’d believe it if you told me they were actually related.

At first, it’s disconcerting that they never call each other by any name, and, throughout the show, there are numerous references to the unspecified “motherland,” the country where both Chao and her parents were born before the family immigrated to “this country,” and which still looms large in the trio’s consciousness. But it eventually becomes clear why Lofti has made the decision to keep such things vague -- so that any pair of actors, of any ethnicity, can take on these roles. (Indeed, Chao and Wong will be joined in rotation – and eventually succeeded -- by Shohreh Aghdashloo and Tony Shalhoub on June 10.)

As the oldest child – and the one forced to be assimilator and translator – “Q” is burdened by a sense of responsibility to her parents that impacts the choices she makes for herself, perhaps for better, perhaps for worse. Meanwhile, “Z,” who is born somewhat later, chooses his own path, one his parents neither approve or nor fully understand -- and one that bears its own consequences for that decision.

Moreover, even if your family immigrated to this country over 100 years ago (as mine did), you’ll understand deeply how Chao and Wong’s characters are continuously grappling with the past – both their parents and their own – whether it happened 75 years ago, 50 years ago, or maybe just five years ago. No matter how much one wants to concentrate on today or tomorrow, yesterday is simply inescapable.

Indeed, if there’s just one thing to take away from “What Became of Us” it’s how one of time’s greatest gift is that it gives us a stronger sense of perspective.