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San Diego Theater Icon Sandra Ellis-Troy Dies

Sandra Ellis-Troy as Gladys Green and Francis Gercke as David in the New Vill...

Photo by Charlie Riendeau

Above: Sandra Ellis-Troy as Gladys Green and Francis Gercke as David in the New Village Arts production of "The Waverly Gallery."

Sandra Ellis-Troy was a passionate performer who brought her considerable strength and vibrancy to San Diego stages for the last 20 years.

Ellis-Troy, 68, died unexpectedly in her sleep in the early morning on Saturday, December 4th, while she was visiting her family in Northern California. According to New Village Arts artistic director Kristianne Kurner, Ellis-Troy had a large family of children and grandchildren and was spending Thanksgiving with them.

Her sudden death has shocked the local theater community, where she was much beloved and considered a grand dame of the scene. Ellis-Troy has performed on almost every stage in the city. She worked at Moonlight Stage Productions, was an associate guest artist at Lambs Players Theatre, a resident artist at Cygnet Theatre and North Coast Repertory Theatre, and an ensemble member at New Village Arts.

Her last role was at New Village Arts, where she played Jack's mother in the production of Stephen Sondheim's "Into the Woods."

Kurner said by phone that Ellis-Troy was one of her favorite people to watch on stage. "The strength that she possessed was just amazing. Even today, a lot of women have difficulty playing really strong female characters, but not her. She could take over a stage. She always found the strength in a character, but also allowed the character's vulnerability to come through."

In my own experience of watching Ellis-Troy on stage, that combination of strength and vulnerability was perhaps most apparent in her performance as Gladys Green in New Village Art's production of "The Waverly Gallery." Written by Kenneth Lonergan and inspired by his own grandmother's decline, this touching and funny play is about a woman's struggles with Alzheimer's disease.

Ellis-Troy gave a poignant performance. It was in New Village's old, very intimate space in the Jazzercise building in Carlsbad and I remember sitting so close to the stage, which made Ellis-Troy's performance even more absorbing.

I've only met Ellis-Troy a few times, but she was one of those women you don't forget. At the risk of sounding corny, I always thought: I hope I'm like her as I get older - opinionated, vibrant, a bright spark.

The North County Times has an obit that nicely encapsulates Ellis-Troy's life and career. Jim Hebert, theater critic at the U-T and frequent guest on These Days (which I produce), is planning an article on Ellis-Troy's significant career in San Diego theater so look for that in the coming days.

In the meantime, Hebert reports that Ellis-Troy's favorite drink was "a shot of cheap Scotch, chased with Newcastle ale." I seem to have a thing about women I admire and their drink preferences; I always remember them. Katherine Hepburn drank whiskey, and famously quipped on screen, "Gimme a whiskey, with ginger-ale on the side, and don't be stingy baby." (CORRECTION: I am informed by classic movie lover Maureen Cavanaugh that it was actually Greta Garbo who quipped famous about whiskey and ginger-ale, and that it was her first bit of dialogue in a a talkie. I am right, however, about Hepburn drinking whiskey. It was her drink, and later in life it helped with her Parkinson's. I think Ellis-Troy will appreciate my error, since she's now referred to in the midst of both Hepburn and Garbo!)

I'll have to try a shot of cheap Scotch and a Newcastle, in honor of Sandra Ellis-Troy.

There will be a public memorial called "A Celebration of Life" for Sandra Ellis-Troy on Monday, December 13 at 4:00 pm at the Moonlight Amphitheatre, at 1200 Vale Terrace Drive in Vista.


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