A castmate and friend bids beloved local actor a final adieu:

Sandra Ellis-Troy was a force of nature — in life, and especially on the stage. But to paraphrase Shakespeare, “nature’s course has been untimely trimm’d,” with the passing on Dec. 4 of this wonderful woman, actor, mother, grandmother and friend.

For the past 18 years, Sandy (as she was always known to our local community) graced almost every stage in San Diego. She played society gals, divas, red-hot mamas, sensitive and gentle mothers, elderly women suffering from dementia, even Petruchio, the male lead in The Taming of the Shrew.

Every character she played, she became. Watching Sandy was like watching magic. She could transform herself in a split second from a dewy ingénue to a ranting raconteur. Sandy didn’t so much act as embody. If her character’s heart was broken, the tears fell like rain. If the character liked booze, cigarettes and bad language, Sandy could make a grown man blush. When she was required to be a lady, no one was more elegant and glamorous.

Some of my favorite productions in which she took center stage (but never all the limelight) were: A Little Night Music and The Gingerbread Lady, both at Cygnet Theatre, and The Waverly Gallery at New Village Arts in Carlsbad.

Working with Sandy was a breathless joyride. I know because earlier this year, I played Kate to her Petruchio at The Theatre, Inc. in downtown San Diego. When I was offered the role of Kate, I suspected that Petruchio might be played by a younger man, to create a devilish divide (I am definitely not a younger woman!) When Sandy was cast, we were both surprised and ultimately delighted. For me, this was a dream come true, to work with a redoubtable doyen of the stage from whom I knew I would learn so much. I am quite sure that Sandy did not feel the same blood rush. She was pleased because we have been friends for many years, but I had no theatrical skills to teach her.

Watching Sandy learn the lines for her part was to witness an art in itself. Her laser focus, her tirelessness and her determination to get Shakespeare’s scansion and sensibility just right were admirable. Her instincts on the stage were inspiring. Now, that didn’t always make her every director’s dream actor — she was opinionated! But those who listened and watched as she plied her trade knew that if Sandy suggested something, it was often right.

Waiting for me to catch up to her pace, she was patience itself. She never sat idly. Sandy would work on her script, talk about the play with the other cast members, or stand outside the theater and smoke. How else would she keep her sultry, seductive voice? When it came to the scenes where we exchanged a kiss, Sandy always made sure to chew some gum (usually mine) or suck a peppermint (usually from someone else).

She looked as handsome in traditional Shakespeare male garb as she did beautiful in her feminine costumes. Part Cherokee, Sandy was blessed with glorious cheekbones, expressive eyes and the constitution of an ox. Or so we thought.

When we learned that Sandy had passed away in her sleep after a night of holiday celebrations with her family, our theater community was deeply shocked and saddened. Sandy was immortal, or so we thought. Yet as Pat Hansen, co-¬founder of the Carlsbad Playreaders put it, “Sandy loved to give, not to receive. Dying as suddenly as she did, she placed no burden on anyone.” Sandy took her final bow as any leading lady should … entirely alone.”

Sandy may be gone, but she will not be forgotten. Her name will linger on the lips of all of us who knew her. In time we will laugh her hearty laugh, retell her delightfully dirty stories, and revel in the memory of the magic she wove onstage. Sandy, you may have taken your final bow and slipped the surly bonds of earth, but the applause from those of us left standing will be loud and long.

Jenni Prisk has been going to theater for nearly 30 years in San Diego County and writing about it for seven. An actor herself, she’s also an international motivational speaker, communications coach and trainer. Please contact her directly at jenni@prisk.com.

Dagny Salas was web editor at Voice of San Diego from 2010 to 2013. She was an investigative fellow at VOSD from 2009 to 2010.

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