By Tulis McCall

First of all, “What Became Of Us,” now at Atlantic Stage 2, will make you respect the heck out of actors as story tellers.  That is what Shayan Lofti has created – one long story that covers decades.  Two siblings, (known only as Q and Z respectively) roughly ten years apart, chart their lives like two tennis players lobbing balls back and forth.  It takes us awhile to figure this out as the first actor appears and speaks – not to us, which is frustrating – but to a generalized audience that moves from over our heads to other locations in the theatre.  This is an unfocused opening.  Who is she talking to?

On the day in question I saw one of the two casts Rosalind Chao and BD Wong. (The other cast is Shohreh Aghdashloo and Tony Shalhoub).  Ms. Chao’s opening monologue was earnest but vague. She wandered the stage, climbed over and around the one long lack box of a set piece and connected to no one while she was telling the tale.  Roughly 20 minutes in, we realize that she is talking to her younger brother who was born on her watch.  We realize this because the brother Z (Wong) appears, and there ensues the tennis match of dialogue.

Dialogue ay be too strong a word here.  It is more of a reportage – and again the text is a challenge to navigate because so much of the story leapfrogs from one location to another.

While Q was born in “The Old Country,”  Z was born in “This Country,” and there was more than thousands of miles that separated them.  Q accepted her job as the go between for her parents and the perplexing customs, open spaces, and dangers of “This Country.”  Z was immersed in “This Country.” He grew up self referential and living dreams the rest of his family could not understand or accept. The “Old Country” haunted Q, and “This Country” is the only world that interested Z.

What does work is Lofti’s gift of making “The Old Country” and “This Country” specific and universal at the same time.  We soon let go of the urge to identify “The Old Country” or “This Country”and chose instead to cling to the story that the two characters weave like a spider web.  It is how they hold each other close.

Photo by Ahron Foster

Words seem to be all they have.  The two characters rarely look at one another and must rely on listening for connection.  This is a purposeful device, perhaps by both Mr. Lofti and the director, Jennifer Chang.  I wish I could report that it was a resounding success.  It was not. That visceral connection when one actor looks at another is absent wile we watch the actors wander the stage and move the one set piece back and forth.  We have no means of connecting to these siblings until the last few scenes of the play, when the circle is complete and we can feel the depth and richness of their relationship.   It is then that we understand that the “Old Country” and “This Country” are not so different.  These moments are not enough, however, to provide us a satisfying connection to the siblings or their story.

WHAT BECAME OF US, written by Shayan Lotfi,  directed by Jennifer Chang.

WITH two separate casts: one featuring Rosalind Chao and BD Wong, and another featuring Shohreh Aghdashloo and Tony Shalhoub.

Sets by Tanya Orellana, costumes by Rodrigo Muñoz, lighting by Reza Behjat, sound & compositions by Fan Zhang.

Atlantic Theater Company (Neil Pepe, Artistic Director, Jeffory Lawson, Managing Director). Through Saturday, June 29th. 

Rosalind Chao & BD Wong perform May 17 – June 15, 2024. 

Shohreh Aghdashloo & Tony Shalhoub perform June 10 – June 29, 2024. 

Both casts perform in succession June 11–13, 2024: For four performances only, both casts will perform back-to-back as an exclusive double-feature event! 

Tickets HERE