'What Became of Us' review — a tender sibling story buoyed by language

Read our review of What Became of Us off Broadway, starring Rosalind Chao and BD Wong through June 15 and Shohreh Aghdashloo and Tony Shalhoub from June 10-29.

Allison Considine
Allison Considine

Shayan Lotfi’s What Became of Us brings an immigrant family’s story to the stage in a unique way: The production features two revolving casts of different diasporic backgrounds to explore the places and people that define “home.” At my performance, Rosalind Chao and BD Wong portrayed siblings.

Chao exudes warmth and perfectly fits her character, Q, a helpful, open-hearted librarian. Five minutes into the performance, a fire alarm test interrupted Chao mid-monologue. When she re-entered the stage, she softly invited the audience back into the world of the play with a breath, a nod, and an arm gesture, like a librarian readying for storytime.

As Z, Wong brings levity and laughter to the play’s tough themes of disappointment and loss. Wong is playful and petulant as the younger sibling and the family’s black sheep. It’s a joy to watch his character come into the world and grow up to be a celebrated chef and parent.

Lotfi’s script is beautifully poetic. The characters recall their childhood, from the glow of a neon sign deodorant advertisement outside their apartment window to the tangy taste of orange slices. It was a delight to listen to the memories the siblings had of their upbringing and how their parents’ immigrant experience shaped their lives.

The play is constructed in three beats, with the characters delivering monologues with nearly every sentence beginning with “you,” then with “I,” and finally “we.” After a short while, the repetitive structure turned the beautiful prose into dull text. The actors appeared to be thinking through — and in a few cases, tripping over — the long lines.

The character’s two parallel monologues roll forward on separate tracks, and the minimal set (designed by Tanya Orellana) did nothing to help the actors move through the time and space of the play.

Director Jennifer Chang furthered the play’s form, and the actors delivered lines to the audience, and not each other, for most of the play. This lack of exchange between the characters swallowed some of the play’s tenderness and prolonged the 75-minute runtime.

2 what became of us-1200x600-NYTG

What Became of Us summary

What Became of Us follows siblings Q and Z as they reflect on their lives. Q was born in this country, and Z in the old country, and the two-hander explores how that experience shaped them and their relationship. The “old country” is never specified, bringing a universality to the immigrant experience. The 75-minute play spans from the birth of Z to the death of Q, with all the ups and downs on life’s journey between.

What to expect at What Became of Us

The production features two casts: Rosalind Chao and BD Wong and Shohreh Aghdashloo and Tony Shalhoub. Chao and Wong will perform through June 15 and Aghdashloo and Shalhoub from June 10-29. For four performances, both casts will perform back-to-back as a double-feature event.

“My intention for this piece has always been that the roles would alternate between separate pairings of actors from different diasporic backgrounds," said Lotfi in a statement. “I am thrilled that Atlantic has supported this by bringing together this remarkable cast.”

3 what became of us-1200x600-NYTG

What audiences are saying about What Became of Us

At the time of publication, What Became of Us had an audience rating of 75%, aggregated from 18 reviews, on Show-Score. Audience members noted the likable performers and slow pace.

  • “See it if you want two interwoven monologues exploring themes of migration, family, and the dignity of an unremarkable life. I wept.” - Show-Score user Jerry 4154
  • “See it if you like a story about family dynamics, forgiveness, and ties that overcome disappointment.” - Show-Score user Leslie B.
  • “See it if you like to see a wonderful story exploring the life and relationship of two siblings of immigrant parents. Great acting, funny and touchy.” - Show-Score user Sanda
  • “Don't see it if you want more than a bare stage with 2 characters telling the story of their ordinary interwoven lives in narrative. Kind of generic.” - Show-Score user Kim G City
  • “Some parts really dragged, and I think at times the dialogue was overwrought.” - Show-Score user Benjamin 0789

Read more reviews of What Became of Us on Show-Score.

Who should see What Became of Us

  • Theatregoers interested in seeing new works will enjoy experiencing playwright Shayan Lotfi’s Off-Broadway debut.
  • Those interested in immigrant stories will be moved by this story of what it means to call two places home.
  • Theatre lovers who want to see something unique on stage will revel in watching two different casts perform the play back-to-back on special performances.
  • Fans of BD Wong, best known for his Tony Award-winning performance as Song Liling in M. Butterfly and a long run on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, will enjoy his performance as Q.
  • Fans of stage and screen star Tony Shalhoub, whose TV credits include Monk and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, will enjoy watching him perform up close on stage during his run.

Learn more about What Became of Us

What Became of Us is a beautiful meditation on the life and offers up a unique theatregoing experience with its double casting, but the heightened language and lack of dialogue exchange slow the pace.

Learn more about What Became of Us on New York Theatre Guide. What Became of Us is at Atlantic Stage 2 through June 29.

Photo credit: Rosalind Chao and BD Wong in What Became of Us off Broadway. (Photos by Ahron R. Foster)

Originally published on

Subscribe to our newsletter to unlock exclusive New York theatre updates!

  • Get early access to Broadway's newest shows
  • Access to exclusive deals and promotions
  • Stay in the know about top shows and news on Broadway
  • Get updates on shows that are important to you

You can unsubscribe at any time. Privacy Policy