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Regretfully, So the Birds Are

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


Regretfully, So the Birds Are


By Julia Polinsky



Julia Izumi’s Regretfully, So the Birds Are turns cliches on their heads while poking hilarious fun at them. Considering that play’s premise comes straight out of a tabloid headline -- the family at the center of Regretfully, So the Birds Are includes a drug-addicted mother in jail for burning her cheating husband to death, and three Asian adoptee adult children who have serious identity questions -- “hilarious’ hardly seems likely. But I laughed myself silly. That’s a neat trick.


Putting the “dys” in “dysfunctional,” the Whistler family is a trouble magnet. The cliché super-achiever, Illy (Sasha Diamond), has bought a piece of the sky, to migrate there and build a new home for herself and her boyfriend/brother, the charmingly dim-witted, tone deaf Neel (Sky Smith). Brother? Yes; the siblings are adoptees, they’re not blood related – a phrase that rubs them the wrong way so much that they’ve made a pact against saying it. Their sister, Mora, a self-described “disaster,” who is such a mess she can’t do something as simple as schedule the plumber to fix the ice maker, has a childish tantrum when Illy and Neel tell her about their love, complete with “I’m telling Mom and you’ll be in so much trouble.”


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Sky Smith and Gibson Frazier in Regretfully, So the Birds Are. (Photo: Chelcie Parry)


Nobody here is the adult in the room; the father, Cam Whistler (Gibson Frazier), shows up as a giant snowman outside the house, dispensing stupid platitudes and history factoids about Asians, fulfils himself as the white-savior who’s obsessed with Asians. Considering he’s dead at the time, that’s another neat trick; the snowman, as white as white can be, talking with his Asian adoptee children.  Then there’s mom Elinore (Kristine Neilsen), in jail for arson and manslaughter, hilariously drifty and disconnected.


The siblings all find out something important to them. Neel discovers that he’s tone deaf, and goes on a Hero’s Journey to the home of country music, Nebraska, to learn to sing. (Yes, Nebraska; did I mention that he’s a bit dimwitted?) Mora, the disaster sibling, talks her mother into revealing that she was adopted from a country that starts with C, but not China. So Mora goes to Cambodia on her Journey in search of her mother, with a plan to ask every person she meets if they gave up a baby girl with a scar on her neck for adoption.

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


Illy, who has bought her piece of sky with the money she got from awards, fellowships, salaries as principal violist in two Symphonies, and 20 million YT views on her channel, discovers that you can’t own the sky when she is confronted with birds who complain that “we die” and “Sky is free free/no no no buy Sky”


The birds (puppets handled by the cast) are angry about people killing them. They peck and attack, planning to “kill Illy mate,” kind of a cross between Sesame Street and Hitchcock, but then try “Change Illy/Make Illy See/See see see” but settle for “Change Illy Mate”.

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Kristine Nielsen and Sasha Diamond in Regretfully, So the Birds Are. (Photo: Chelcie Parry)


Mora finds her birth mother (or does she?) (Pearl Sun). Neel becomes an environmentalist. The hyper-responsible Illy finally gets the plumber in to fix the ice maker – and the plumber reveals that she and Neel were not at all who they thought they were, with a devastating twist.


How can you make that all funny? Izumi did; it works. Director Jenny Koons has creatively and inventively balanced the play, teetering as it does between darkness and light. Set design by You-Shin Chen works as best it can, making three spaces into spare, comic-book like references to a treehouse, a charred suburban living room, outside the house.


The cast of Regretfully, So the Birds Are are delightful, giving performances so note perfect and engaging that it’s hard to stop laughing long enough to feel the distress that might reasonably accompany incest, arson, manslaughter, drug addiction, prison, environmental disaster, greed, loss of identity. Izumi calls the play a “farcical tragedy.” The 90 minutes of Regretfully, So the Birds Are offer both, with wacky zest.



Regretfully, So the Birds Are

At Playwrights Horizons

Through April 30

Tickets $51-91