Writer/Director: Jared McNeill
Italian Translation: Vittoria Corallo
Production: La Mama Umbria International/Fondazione Progetti Beverly Pepper
Live Music by: Claudio Scarabottini, Jared McNeill
Two years in the making, the piece has been the product of research, rewrites, and workshops, beginning with Laboratorio: Mito at Cagliari's Teatro Massimo, which you can read about here, and, more recently, a workshop called Communication in the Midst of Solitude, an examination of the history of language and communication held at Rome's Accademia Nazionale d'Arte Drammatica Silvio D'Amico. In September of 2020, I was given the opportunity to realize a workshop production of the full piece. Rehearsals and an invited performance were held on the grounds of La Mama Umbria International in Bazzano, and our work was premiered amidst the historic Todi Columns of Beverly Pepper Park as part of Fondazione Beverly Pepper's inaugural Festival delle Arti.
I invite you to have a look through some of our rehearsal and production photos from those days, and if you'd like to jump to a full description of the work and the inspiration behind it, just click here!
There are two accounts, possibly apocryphal, and whose origins in my memory are so
blurred that they may as well have come in a dream:
The first is the story of a native tribe, the last of its kind, somewhere scattered in those
archipelagos where the Indian Ocean meets the North Pacific. It was the 1980's, and an
intrepid band of western explorers had set off to make contact with the tribe that was, as of
yet, untouched by modern culture.
In comes the ship, as the island draws near in the distance. On the one side stands a
captain, and crew, and scientists with their instruments, riding a wave from the future of man.
On the other, standing on the black-rock beaches, are the natives; themselves curious, but
calm and motionless as their eyes track this behemoth onto shore.
The encounter was well-researched, and as is the custom, gifts were presented in the way of
peace-offering. Nothing special for you or I, but for the lack of modern comforts perceived
within the native tribe, they were exceptional: a book of matches; a pair of sandals. These simple offerings rippled out with effects on the tribe that no one could have imagined.
There were some peculiar things about that native tribe which no one had taken
For one, they existed without hierarchy. They recognized elders, and leading members, but
somehow these distinctions ran parallel to a complete parity amongst them. Everything was
shared as needed, and no one took more than their need. Thus, introducing one pair of
sandals, which were presented to the apparent leader, immediately introduced a
sense of injustice that they had never before experienced.
The next had to do with their language, which included no past or future tense, and included
no 'I', only 'we', with actions spoken of as if allowed by nature:
“The sea allowed us to take the fish.”
“The fish came to us.”
Needless to say, these peculiarities were eliminated by interference of well-meaning
intentions. Today, it remains mostly a mystery how this tribe of people could have possibly
existed for so long in this way.
The second story is of two ships who sank within days of one another after wrecking
themselves on the same sea-stack rock formation in the middle of the ocean. Each
wreckage left only one survivor behind, and each survivor ended up swimming to the same
nearby islet. In fact, the islet was all they shared: not language, not origin, and seemingly not
status; yet they forged a relationship based on mutual dependence and survival. They
worked together to capture sea turtles and fish, and invented their own methods of
One day, a conflict arose. We can only imagine why, but from that moment, a literal line was
drawn in the sand. They divided the tiny islet in two, and lived in close-quartered solitude for
the duration of their sentence. One man died of hunger. The other was rescued, and never
forgave himself for abandoning his “friend.”
These two stories, real or imagined, form the heart of The Sand, and Cement.
I once heard it called a myth that irreconcilable conflict between man is inevitable. Biblically,
the first homicide is attributed to Cain, who killed his brother Abel. But that didn't come from
nowhere: Cain sensed or feared God's favoritism for the offerings of his brother. It was
envy. And that envy couldn't exist without some third, high influencer.
Then what are the outward forces that drive us to war, even against our better interests?
Ambition, for one. And greed. Self-importance. But also basic needs like hunger, and thirst,
and perhaps, in a world which necessitates cohabitation, communication. How is language
tied to culture, and to the conflict that culture creates?
We view language very much as a product of civilization/culture/society/community. But the thing is, if guttural grunts pre-date culture as we know it, then might there be something about the sounds we make, the shape of them, and the words we've formed, that plays a role in determining how we relate to one another?
Behind everything, ironically, is our violence tied to our mortality; the fundamental aspect of our living existence?
With this piece, I hope to explore the origins of conflict.
In doing so, I'm left with one other question; one that would work just as well in the form of an introduction:
Laid in sand, in cement,
was Forever, or never was?