Edward Albee‘s (2004) “The Sandbox” is a continuation of American experimentation with realistic theater because he does not delve into the absurd; instead, the author focuses on an existential worldview as well as on the psychological, leaving out the metaphysical realm and surrealists stylistic techniques and methods as those appearing in “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. In contrast, Albee experiments with words to re-invent old clichés when pertaining to both social behaviors and discussions to give his pieces a realistic taste. To further play with realistic theater, the author creates scenery, plots and characters involved in psychologically irrational behaviors. The characters behave in believable ways. Maintaining the realistic flavor, Albee (2004) depicts these pathetic souls living rich but vacuous lives–Americans who indulge in the materialistic and mechanistic worldview but without the fortune of inheriting heart, soul and substance.
Albee’s (2004) “The Sandbox” is realistic in the sense that the plot involves the sick and nasty psychological disposition of characters, reflecting the society and world that they live in: A world where there are heartless and soulless people. Albee (2004) writes:
DADDY Where do we put her?
MOMMY (the same little laugh) Wherever I say, of course. Let me see…well…all right, over there…in the sandbox. (Pause) Well, what are you waiting for, Daddy…The sandbox! (Together they carry GRANDMA over to the sandbox and more or less dump her in.) (p. 2292)
As they do the dumping of GRANDMA in her death “Sandbox” where she awaits her death, they walk away from her as she yells out at the top of her lungs in discomfort. What do DADDY and MOMMY do or say? Albee (2004) continues,
“DADDY (pause) What do we do now?
MOMMY (as if remembering) We…wait. We…sit here…and we wait…that’s what we do” (p. 2293).
There is no hope for GRANDMA, not even from the attractive young but mysterious fellow who has been lurking around with a smile, taking into account the cliché about smiling strangers: Beware. It turns out that he is nothing more than the angel of death, waiting for her demise. Experimenting with realistic theatre, Albee (2004) gives death an ironic material persona as a smiling and good-looking youth. He juxtaposes that image with death, looming about to cause trouble, yet clothed with seemingly good behaviors and words illustrating that he appears not too comfortable about what he must do but does it anyway, “I am the Angel of Death. I am…uh…I am come for you” (p. 2295). The Angel of Death turns out to be the couple’s young son who is in the plot to kill granny who has become like luggage. Although not playing his role very well, he acts out the characters part as must be done in his world where the once family unit that resulted in a warm and nurturing home has dissolved. In its place scheming families have arisen, families who plot against one another, especially when that other is a pest as is the grandmother in this play.
Through the play of dialogue and simple, conversational clichés that at times tend to be sarcastic with a caustic humorous twist, Albee (2004) masters the use of understated dialogue that does not reveal the conflict but moves it along at a mundane pace, paralleling the feelings of “Mommy” and “Daddy” who are having a very long day–for good reason as the reader will soon discover. More interestingly and pleasantly surprising for the reader is the way Albee (2004) is able to mimic the understated dialogue used by Ernest Hemingway in his “Hill Like White Elephants” and brilliantly. Just as Hemingway (1961) was able to use understated dialogue in a natural and simple conversational tone that created a realistic drama, so has Albee (2004) succeeded in this essay.
Because of the understated dialogue and its masterful incorporation in this piece, the characters are real for the reader or the audience, depending on whether reading or viewing this no more than 15 minute realistic theatrical performance. Indeed, the characters are very believable and dialogue, especially when used as within this piece, is an excellent way to enhance a piece’s authenticity. Clearly, it has done so in “The Sandbox.” What is more is that in its understatement, the reader clearly understands the movement and the conflict.
The actors portraying the characters only need to act in a cliché kind of way, “both language and social” (p. 2291). The symbolism portrayed by characters is realistic in the sense that the symbolic representation maintains the level of realism. As mentioned previously, the young son plays the role of the angel of death. Albee (2004) experiments with the realistic theatre itself by making a real person play the character of an abstract concept such as death. Yet, the author maintains the realistic quality of the character in role, the character playing death by making him err during his speech to grandma where he mumbles his lines, making it obvious for the reader that this is not death but the grandmother’s grandson about to do the dirty deed.
Such a theme as the one that Albee (2004) experiments and continues when pertaining to the realistic theatre is realistic in that it represents the reality of some families within a capitalist society–those families who want to get rich at the expense of others. The news is full of happenings within wealthy and not so wealthy families who get rid of the annoying elders in order to receive the winnings or inheritance. This is realistic theatre–depicting what has become cliché both in behavior and language, using the psychological to create the metaphysical yet continuing the experimentation with realistic theatre.
In his piece “The Sandbox,” Albee (2004), by using certain strategies and techniques, is able to maintain an air of realism in spite of the surreal qualities of his piece. This is but a sign of further experimentation in realistic theater–or what some may call the continuation of experimentation with old fashioned satire.
Copyright 2013 by Hakes Publishing