Edward Albee (b. 1928)
Contributing Editor: John Alberti
Classroom Issues and Strategies
One-act plays like The Sandbox work well in the classroom. Their brevity not only allows for detailed analysis of the text, but as dramatic works they invite the use of performance as a pedagogical strategy. Asking groups of students to prepare and put on their own productions of The Sandbox, whether live in the classroom or on video tape, transforms literary interpretation from an academic exercise to a pragmatic consideration of how to stage the play, as student actors/directors must make discussion about how lines are read, what body language is to be used, and even how to construct a set given the constraints of both Albee's script directions and the limitations of the classroom. If several student groups put together their own versions of the play, the class can then discuss and write on the different approaches taken, and what these approaches say about the way theater works and the variability of the interpretive act.
A performative approach can help students deal with the difficulties of The Sandbox. While the diction of the characters in the play is accessible, almost cliched, the very poverty of their powers of expression can provoke questions about how we are supposed to understand the motivations and feelings of the characters. This contrast between the banality of the language of Mommy and Daddy and the extremity of their plans (murder) is of course one of the themes of the play itself, and in deciding how to portray the characters students will have to make decisions about just how to deliver their lines, decisions they can then desctibe and reflect on in written assignments. Similarly, the meta-theatrical nature of the play, with Grandma's and Mommy's frequent references to the staging of the play itself and the identification of the Young Man as an actor ("playing" the Angel of Death), extends the theme of the poverty of interpersonal communication to the ritual of theatre itself in modern, media-driven society (the Young Man is identified not just as an actor, but an actor from Southern California, with implications of the film industry).