Edward Albee wrote The Sandbox upon commission from the Festival of Two Worlds at the Spoleto Festival in Italy in 1959. Its first production, however, would be in New York the following year. The Sandbox is irretrievably linked to a longer play by Albee titled The American Dream, from which he took characters and inserted them into circumstances different from, but loosely related to, incidents in the full-length play. The result is a 14 minute-long exercise in Absurdism.
The Sandbox is dedicated to Albee’s grandmother on his mother’s side; he based a character upon her, one who appears in both the shorter and the longer works. In fact, the very title of The Sandbox is actually a reference to the children’s playground mainstay in which the grandmother’s body is buried. Since a sensible plot is not only not required in an Absurdist play, and is in fact a violation of its essential point, the narrative that takes place during the 14 minute run is basically beside the point. Suffice to say that the unusual gravesite starts out as a practical joke by grandma and ends up becoming literal when a buff young man exercising nearby turns out to be the Angel of Death.
Self-referential components associated with Postmodernism are introduced by having the actors break character and insert commentary on the events taking place. The dialogue is flat and purposely trite and prosaic as part of the play’s thematic concern with the lack of real communication in modern society. Part of that thematic coherence, instead, is the decision to name the characters after their relationships to each other.
Oddly, in light of its distinctly Absurdist nature, The Sandbox is considered one of Edward Albee’s most autobiographical works. The playwright himself continued to insist it was his finest play even after Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf became one of the defining stage dramas of the 1960s.