Friday, October 11, 2013

Look At Me, I'm Sandra Dee...

Sandy Dumbrowski. Iconic musical character. Sweetness embodied. Olivia Newton John. Gidget. Good girl gone bad.

These are all things people think of when they think of Sandy. But really, who is this character? And why does it matter?

Because let's be honest, the storyline of Grease is is fairly weak. But for some reason, people love it. Shows sell out. People know the music by heart. But if the story is so weak, why is that? It's more than the catchy songs, big production. Grease is clever. It's cleverly and wittily written and the characters are incredibly well developed for a musical. These great characters are what brings people in.

There are ton of tidbits in there for character development if you care to look. To be fair, the first time I did this show, I didn't look this hard.

But now that I'm older - and have spent a fair amount of money on acting classes - there is SO much to see.

Doody has a line to Roger about how is old lady actually dragged herself out of bed to open a can of sardines for him since it was the first day of school. This clues us in to dysfunction in the home. Marty's whole solo, "Freddy My Love," is all about using boys and her looks to get money and gifts and how she has about 50 boyfriends. It practically reeks of daddy issues. Nearly every line Jan has is her trying to keep the peace, telling the audience that she does this a lot, meaning her parents probably fight all the time.

Now. Sandy. Who are you?

When analyzing a script, we look at three things.What does the playwright say about me? What do other characters say about me? And what do I say about myself?

The playwright tells me that I am sweet, naive, wholesome, and look like Gidget. Ok, so that's skeletal start,, some stepping stones.

Danny tells the boys I'm cute. The other girls continually refer to me as Sandra Dee and too pure to be pink. And Sandy herself says things like, "just because we're steadies doesn't mean we'll go all the way." This tells us she's fairly strong and seems to stick by her values and thinks for herself. These are all things I can glean directly from the script.

Now, until last night, I kind of forgot to play Sandy as strong. Just because she's naive, that doesn't mean that she's weak.

Whoops. Duh.

When John reminded me of that, a light bulb kind of turned on. She's strong, which is why she can goad Danny into trying out for the track team, why she can try to beat up Rizzo, why she can scream at Danny, and why she doesn't go all the way at the drive-in.

Now, you could argue with me that the whole point of Grease is that she changes for a guy, but hear me out! She changes into the infamous Bad Sandy of her own volition. No one makes her do it. No one gives her the idea. She makes the switch because she wants to (So, Grease haters, just calm down). She makes the switch because she thinks it will make her happy.

Now to the nitty gritty of my Sandy. The specifics of who I am in this role.

At the start of the show, Sandy is 17 years old, a new senior at Rydell High. Her family is upper middle class and live in the suburbs. They are conservative Catholic and Sandy grew up going to Mass every Sunday and Wednesday. Mr. Dumbrowski is a doctor and he got transferred to the hospital in the city mid-summer. She didn't want to spend every summer day in the house with her mother so she would escape unpacking by going on walks to the beach and the boardwalk. Her first little rebellion was her summer romance with Danny, the precursor and foreshadowing to the rest of the show. They would spend days swimming, wading, boating, building sand castles, roller skating, things of pure romance. Her father has no idea, but her mother has an inkling, because Sandy seems so happy, especially for just having moved to a new town.

She has also met Frenchy, through their mothers. Since they are neighbors, her mother brought the Dumbrowskis a housewarming gift as soon as was appropriate and the two girls hit it off.

Sandy is all set to go to Immaculata, the all girls Catholic school, but her father gets in a shouting match with the Mother Superior (thank you, script, for telling me their religious stance!!) and she get dropped right into public high school.

Her father's fight with the Mother Superior tells us that he is a force to be reckoned with, and this is reinforced by Sandy's line during the ill-fated ear piercing about how he would probably kill her for this. Now that could just be an excuse, but that's a pretty weak acting choice. If I delve a little deeper, I could decide that her father is the man of the house and he wants to have an immaculate household. He would be furious if Sandy were to do something to tarnish his reputation and his anger scares Sandy a little bit. I don't think he's an abusive father or husband, but I would imagine he yells if dinner is not just right or there's mud on the tile.

There is a lot to these characters, especially Sandy. She wants to fit in with these Pink Ladies, but their behavior is so outside her realm of understanding. She still has her values, but it conflicts with her desire to belong and to do well in school - that's why she does a Biology project with Eugene. People just pull her around, though, each telling her the best way to succeed at Rydell. Rizzo tells her its through smoking, drinking, and piercing her ears. Patty tells her its cheer leading. For a girl who grew up sheltered and in an all girls Catholic school, public high had to be a shock to the system.

Sandy is a strong, sweet, naive character who really just wants to find her place in this new town. I understand only too well how it feels to define your feeling of belonging around a boy and to have it shatter around you in a second and to leave you floundering. I understand feeling like a square peg trying to fit in a round hole and trying to stand by your values in society. Everyone understands that and that's why Grease is a best seller.

Her transformation into Bad Sandy makes me think of that scene in Easy A where Emma Stone walks down the hall in her new duds. People notice her. And it's not that her personality has changed - she's still smart, witty, silly Olive, but she put on new and crazy clothes. I feel like Sandy really did that.

Sure, Sandy became a little rougher and she punched Patty in the face (though she did hit Rizzo too, so that's even a new thing for her). Maybe she is just saying yes to all the aspects of herself.

I'm a nice girl, but I like wearing tight pants. I have big curly hair. I swear sometimes. Maybe that's not such a terrible thing either. Maybe it's just a people thing.

Maybe Sandy isn't divided between Good Sandy and Bad Sandy just because she says "What the hell!"

I'm pretty sure she's just Sandy.