The Sandbox: The Text Analyzed

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The Sandbox: The Text Analyzed Empty The Sandbox: The Text Analyzed

Post by Rachid Amri on Sun Mar 09, 2008 10:53 pm

The Sandbox is the shortest of Albee's one-act plays, requiring only fourteen minutes' time in the theater (5). A memorial to his own grandmother (139), the play deals with the death of an old lady. Grandma is eighty-six years old; and her daughter and son-in-law, aged fifty-five and sixty, respectively, are waiting for her to die (143). Outside this triangular family situation there are two other characters, the Young Man and the Musician. The Young Man, age twenty-five, is described as "good-looking, well built" and as dressed "in a bathing suit" (143). With his beating and fluttering calisthenics he typifies the Angel of Death (144), although this fact is not known to the other characters. The Musician, according to Albee, should be of "no particular age, but young would be nice" (143).

The curtain goes up on a scene at the beach--sand, water, and sky, in that order, are in the background. In the foreground, far stage-right, "two simple chairs set side by side" face the audience (143-44). Far stage-left shows a single chair and a music stand for the Musician, who faces stage-right when seated. Between these two, at stage center and to the back, there stands a slightly elevated large sandbox, such as children play in, with a toy pail and a shovel (144).

Although the play covers a little more than twenty-four hours--starting with "brightest day" and progressing to "deepest night" and the birth of a new day (144)--the action, or plot, falls into six divisions or scenes. In the first of these Mommy and Daddy appear on the beach, and Daddy complains that it is cold. Mommy accuses him of being silly, for it is actually as warm as toast, she says as she waves flirtatiously to the Young Man in the bathing suit. "Look at that nice young man over there: he doesn't think it's cold," she says, and speaks to him (144). The Young Man smiles endearingly at her and calls "Hi!" (145). After this exchange Mommy, who is described as "imposing" and well-dressed (145), persuades Daddy to help her in disposing of Grandma. Daddy, a thin, little gray man, has to do whatever Mommy says. When Mommy tells the Musician he can come on stage, he then enters, puts his music on the stand, and prepares to play; but he does not play until she rather highhandedly tells him to do so.

In the second scene Mommy and Daddy drag in Grandma, carrying her under the armpits. She holds her tiny figure rigid; her knees are drawn up; and an expression of bewilderment and fear is on her face. When they dump her into the sandbox, she cries like a baby, throws sand at Mommy, and screams at Daddy. Mommy continues flirting with the young man in the bathing suit, who steadily flashes his endearing smile; and she also maintains her "bossing" of Daddy and the Musician. In response to Daddy's question as to what they do now, after having deposited Grandma in the sandbox, Mommy replies, "We . . . wait. We . . . sit here . . . and wait . . . that's what we do" (148).

After more music, which apparently serves as a transition between these earlier scenes (149), Grandma, in the third scene, begins talking to the Young Man; complaining about her bad treatment from her daughter, who had married for money; and telling about her own past life. At an early age she had married a farmer, who had died when she was but thirty years old, leaving her alone to raise her unpleasant daughter. When she asks the Young Man where he is from, he replies, Southern California. When she asks him what his name is, he says, "They haven't given me one yet" (151). On his mentioning the word "studio," she suggests that he may be an actor. He says, "Yes, I am." Finally, she looks up at the sky and shouts off stage, "Shouldn't it be getting dark now, dear?" (152). The rather obvious air of improvisation throughout this play reminds one of Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of an Author, or Tonight We Improvise, or Thornton Wilder's Our Town.

In scene four it is "deepest night," and spotlights are focused on each player (152). The Musician plays through nearly the entire scene although, at Grandma's suggestion, he keeps the music "nice and soft" (153). Four successively louder off-stage rumbles convey, tonally, a closer approach to Grandma's death. The fourth rumble is characterized in Albee's stage direction as "violent," and at the same moment all the lights go out except that on the face of the Young Man (154). When Mommy begins to weep during this scene, Daddy urges her to be brave; but Grandma mocks, "That's right, kid; be brave. You'll bear up; you'll get over it" (154). After the fourth loud rumble, near the end of the scene, the Musician stops playing, Mommy gasps out two long "Oh's," and an ominous silence ensues, after which Grandma's last speech in the scene reads, "Don't put the lights up yet . . . I'm not ready; I'm not quite ready (Silence) All right dear . . . I'm about done" (154).

When the lights come on again in scene five, it is a new day; and we see grandma, lying propped on an elbow and with her body half covered with sand, "busily" shoveling more sand over herself with her free hand (155). Thinking, wishfully, that Grandma is finally buried, Mommy brightens into what we might at first suspect as a post-funeral mood: "We must put away our tears, take off our mourning . . . and face the future. It's our duty" (155). But Grandma is not yet dead, and she again mimicks Mommy, whose sorrow is evidently not so profound as to interfere with her again waving at the handsome Young Man (still in the bathing suit), who again smiles his endearing smile at her. Then, with hands crossed upon her breast and holding the toy shovel, Grandma pretends she is dead, as Mommy delivers herself of certain admiring ejaculations about the lovely appearance of what she believes to be the corpse of her mother. At the end of this scene, during which the Musician again plays continuously, Mommy tells him he can stop now (supposedly because she thinks her mother dead) and stay around or go for a swim if he likes. She and Daddy both congratulate each other on their bravery.

In the sixth and last scene, however, Grandma does meet death. Still alive, she discovers that she can no longer move. The Young Man, who up to this time has been flexing his muscles like any handsome gymnast on a beach, now amateurishly announces himself to her as the Angel of Death. And with this, Grandma's second discovery, he kisses her. To her surprise, she finds the kiss of this polite, modest, half-apologetic young man "very nice," very pleasant (157). She closes her eyes and smiles sweetly. She compliments him, saying "you did that very well, dear . . . you've got a quality" (158). After he smiles and respectfully thanks her very much and after she very politely says "You're welcome . . . dear," he puts his hands on top of hers; and she dies (158). The Musician continues to play as the curtain slowly descends on the tableau, his music having been instigated at the start of this scene by a nod from the powerful Young Man.

Although the play includes six quite separate scenes, we can easily see (now that we have examined it as a whole) that it also has a fairly clear beginning-middle-end logic. Scene one, for example, not only introduces the characters but also presents Mommy's scheme to dispose of Grandma. Scenes two through five show the failure of this plan. Scene six reveals an unexpected turn of events and brings the play to a satisfying close.

Rachid Amri

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