What is siblinghood? Or, rather, what is a sibling? Some define it as a people with shared parents. Others describe it as “someone to blame the broken window on.” Per a recent New York Times opinion piece, siblinghood is the source of a lot — I mean a lot — of arguments: three to seven of them every hour.
For Becca Wolff and Annie Saunders, the creators of an upcoming play called Our Country: The Antigone Project, siblinghood is all of the above. More immediately, it is a play that will get its world premiere at the prestigious Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
It is the latest directing coup for the San Francisco-based Wolff, who has been building up a series of directing successes at Z space, most recently directing Weightless and Love is a Dirty Word there. Wolff is also one of the founders of Scotus Theater, based on Supreme Court decisions and often performed at Z Space. Saunders is the creative director of Wilderness, a company that develops immersive, site-specific theater experiences.
The origin of Our Country is Antigone, the Greek play named for its main character that dramatists have been studying for ages, offering different takes on sibling rivalry, fidelity and civic duty. In the Greek version, Antigone defies the King’s edict against burying her brother, putting duty to her family over duty to her country and defying the example of Ismene, her more compliant sister.
Through their kaleidoscopic two-person version, Wolff and Saunders tell the story of Annie (played by Saunders) and Rafe (played by Max Hersey) – a sister and a brother who, since early childhood, became two completely different people in their adult lives.
Annie is a performance artist living in Los Angeles who has a strongly liberal outlook on the world, while Rafe is a pot farmer living in the cuts of Mendocino County. He believes in Second Amendment rights and sees bar brawls as an essential element of country living.
“So the idea is, if the brother/sister relationship is between somebody who says you need to follow the rules and someone who says ‘these rules are fucked,’ then this gets back to a central question for us: What rules are we following?” explains Wolff, a city resident.
Through the course of the performance, Annie and Rafe attempt to reconcile their differences by traveling back to the foundations of their siblinghood and navigating their shared memories.
Wolff sees the play as a roadmap for one the most politically polarized times in our country’s history. The directors assert that all Americans are siblings of one another, no matter how much we may disagree.
The play is set in the Wild West. The siblings wear bandanas and denim clothes. During certain scenes, audio clips play from The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly and The Wild Angles. The set design makes one feel as though they’re trapped in a penny arcade at a dusty and abandoned carnival ground.
All of this serves a purpose, according to Wolff. The Wild West, for the director, is where America was young and violent as a country, and where many of our violent codes of conduct originated. “There are these questions about our rules and our systems and where they came from,” she said. “The Wild West, we contend, was a time of American adolescence.”
And as for our personal adolescence? Our own siblings?
“When we’re little, we negotiate these rules, we make this world, this country where we live by our own code,” she said. “And then we grow up and we can’t go back to that country — it doesn’t exist — unless, when you’re with your siblings, you may visit that country again.”
As to going to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and what it means for a young director who attended the festival as a child and was awed by the creative action: “It’s the realization of a kind of dream to really be creating work that has a place in the international conversation.”