'Regretfully, So the Birds Are' review — a playful, thoughtful examination of identity

Read our four-star review of Regretfully, So the Birds Are, a new Off-Broadway play written by Julia Izumi, now at Playwrights Horizons through April 30.

Allison Considine
Allison Considine

The Whistler siblings are on a wild, wandering journey to find themselves. The three 20somethings, all Asian adoptees, have a remarkably tough load: Their adopted mom is addicted to opioids, their dad was a victim of arson, and vicious birds are out to get them. Despite the heavy topics, Julia Izumi’s farcical tragedy Regretfully, So the Birds Are is a joyful romp.

The playful world premiere — co-produced by Playwrights Horizons and WP Theater — is neatly structured into three acts that follow the three siblings as they renege on their three sibling pacts.

Illy’s solution to navigating her quarter-life crisis is to buy a piece of the sky. Mora sets off to find her birth mother, and feeble-minded Neel heads to Nebraska to listen to country music (he intended to go to Nashville).

The siblings' performances are the production’s biggest strength. Mora, played by Shannon Tyo, is the self-proclaimed “disaster older sister.” Tyo brings physical comedy to the role, and she spirals while clinging to her status as the favorite child. As Illy, Sasha Diamond dons a tweed lady jacket and a pussy bow blouse (costumes are by Alicia J. Austin) and plays the most buttoned-up sibling with verve.

Sky Smith shines as the feeble-minded Neel, whose sense of self changes when he discovers he is tone-deaf. The trio flails while their mom, Elinore (played with hilarity by Kristine Nielsen), gets high in jail.

Under the well-paced direction of Jenny Koons, the humor lands. Many scenes involve Gibson Frazier as Cam the Snowman, who enters the stage in a flurry of snowflakes and appears in a snowman cutout while doling out advice and fun facts. Frazier also portrays Cowman, a heroic rancher sporting not just one but two cowboy hats. A flock of colorful birds, puppeteered by the whole cast, also draws laughs.

The production design ups the farce with a cartoonish sky above a treehouse, a half-burned living room, and the snowman (scenic design is by You-Shin Chen). A recurring joke comes in the form of a glaring spotlight (lighting is by Stacey Derosier) each time one of the siblings yells, “Attention!”

The second act loses a bit of steam and gets increasingly improbable when Mora travels to Cambodia, but the 90-minute show remains highly entertaining.

The play does not offer the Whistler siblings, or the audience, a playbook for adulting, nor does it come down hard against adoption, as one might expect. Audiences who enjoyed MCC Theater’s Wolf Play will enjoy Regretfully, So the Birds Are, as both creatively examine the complexities of adoptive identity. Izumi offers a whimsical meditation on self-discovery — and a reminder to take stock of what (and who) you have in your life at this moment.

Regretfully, So the Birds Are is at Playwrights Horizons through April 30. Get Regretfully, So the Birds Are tickets on New York Theatre Guide.

Photo credit: Sasha Diamond, Shannon Tyo, and Sky Smith in Regretfully, So the Birds Are. (Photo by Chelcie Parry)

Originally published on

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