Review: Sharp & Fine, "Imaginary Country", Z Space, San Francisco, May 12-14 – 20, 2023
Updated: May 16
Imagine your best friend telling you that she is newly clairvoyant, able to see the future, everyone’s future, forever. Sharp & Fine’s Imaginary Country, at Z Space May 12 through 14, uses theatrical dialogue, original song and modern dance to explore the repercussions of having an oracle in your life.
Julie Crothers plays The Hero. the everyperson whose psyche is turned inside out when her friend, Caitlin Hicks, reveals her Oracle status. Childhood friends, they jump into each other’s arms when confronted with a surprise visit from the other. There is a happy ease and deep trust in their relationship. Rituals and teasing games demonstrate a playful equilibrium between this pair in their initial scene before the burden of foresight is introduced.
Crothers’s Hero is disbelieving. Falling backward unexpectedly to test her friend’s foresight, she begrudgingly comes to accept her friend’s new powers after being caught repeatedly by Hicks. Crothers and Hicks are strong performers and along with The Mother character, played by Sonja Dale, could have carried the continuing arc the Hero follows through fear and sadness toward acceptance. The introduction of some supernatural beings cluttered the field for me.
Julie Crothers, Molly Levy (standing) and Sonja Dale in Imaginary Country; Photo by Robbie Sweeny
Imaginary Country is one of the most ambitious pieces of live theater I have seen post-pandemic. Clearly Megan and Shannon Kurashige, sisters who share responsibility for text creation, direction and choreography, aren’t ones to duck a challenge. Their show includes moving scenery in the form of a cleverly designed two-sided-farmhouse (Scenic Design & Production by Mike Mamamura and Jason Kurashige), costume reveals, live acoustic orchestrations and wireless body microphones on the dancers (Audio Tech by Jacob Felix Huele). All these production aspects come together flawlessly.
The show’s premise is impactful and haunting. We all know that our lives will end in death, but having access to the when and how changes everything. One woman (Molly Levy), whose relationship to The Hero and The Oracle is unclear, spouts her escalating qualms. They include a fear of “losing resources, putting off important and joyful things, a loss of wonder,” and how easy it is “to take people for granted.” Losing herself to her apprehensions, she strips away her worldly clothes to reveal an asymmetrical fringed bodysuit (Costumes by Emily Kurashige).
In this new form of “The Monster” glazed in an ominous purple glow (Lighting by Allen Willner), Levy dances, examining her limbs and experimenting with balance, as atonal horns sound. She reaches, contracts, rolls and rests upside down on her shoulders. As is the case often during the show, the danced segments struggle to match the emotional power of the spoken narrative.
The scene changes abruptly to the house, now upstage. A heavy curly cord sags from the wall-mounted phone The Mother uses to lovingly interrogate and advise a grown child. She seeks assurance her child is eating well, healthy, happy, and surrounding themselves with great people. From her aspirations for her offspring, her thoughts pivot to the ways she has failed to prepare them for the future. Falling silent, her inner-dialogue becomes gestural: fingers rubbing as if sowing seeds, the contentment of this action is periodically broken by two-fisted chest-beating.
The original music by Jordan Glenn (percussion) and Max Judelson (cello) performing with Erika Oba (flute) and Cory Wright (woodwinds), is evocative and rich throughout, lending support to the mood and trajectory of the scenes.
The Kurashiges break the fourth wall, the artificial construct that separates audience from performer, several times. At the beginning we are asked to imagine a person in the future and then to write down our wish for that person. Midway through, as a way to refresh our perspectives, we are asked to close our eyes and conjure a place outdoors that pleases us. Though each person’s reactions are unique, for me rather than creating deeper investment or reshaping my mindset in relation to the future, these participatory moments broke the spell.
Should we be living each day as if it were our last? If we knew we would soon lose someone we love, would we be more intentional in our relationships? Knowing the world indeed warms catastrophically, would we finally act in each other’s best interest?
The cast and musicians of Sharp & Fine's "Imaginary Country" bow; Photo: J Norris
Perhaps uncomfortable with the dire place contemporary audiences go when asked to envision the future for themselves or the planet, the creators seek to bring the Hero, and the audience, to a place of acceptance and hope by the story’s end. In the parting scene the cast breaks character, each reading one of the audience’s previously-penned wishes for the future. This is followed by a joyfully embodied final solo for our Hero as confetti fills the air. While the speed of resolution felt a bit forced, Crothers’s winning smile and enthusiasm lift us as applause radiates.
Review by Jen Norris, published May 15, 2023
Sharp & Fine presents IMAGINARY COUNTRY, a new work of dance-theater that asks, What would
happen if you could see the future? Imaginary Country features original new music performed live at
May 12 – 14, 2023
Z Space – 450 Florida Street, San Francisco
Directors / Choreographers: Megan and Shannon Kurashige
Performers: Julie Crothers, Sonja Dale, Caitlin Hicks, Molly Levy, Meredith Webster
Composers: Jordan Glenn & Max Judelson
Musicians: Jordan Glenn, Max Judelson, Erika Oba, Cory Wright
Lighting Design: Allen Willner
Costume Design: Emily Kurashige