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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

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Leighton Meester on playing Curley's "bitch, tramp, tart" wife: "If she is truly harmless, why is she so threatening?"

blairLeighton Meester (the nom de guerre of well-respected New York acting prodigy Blair Waldorf) has written an op-ed on her experience playing Curley's nameless wife in the stage adaptation of Of Mice And Men, a character so maligned that she's compared to a dog, then treated worse: the audience protests when the dog's led off to be shot, but laughs as Meester's character dies.

In the letter [to Claire Luce, the original stage actress], Steinbeck sheds light on what is behind this character without a name, writing that, "She was told over and over that she must remain a virgin because that was the only way she could get a husband ... She only had that one thing to sell and she knew it." He goes on, "She is a nice, kind girl and not a floozy. No man has ever considered her as anything except a girl to try to make ... As to her actual sex life — she has had none except with Curley and there has probably been no consummation there since Curley would not consider her gratification and would probably be suspicious if she had any." I can barely read the letter now without tearing up at the thought of this imaginary woman, what she stands for, and what she loses.

"If this woman is purely a victim, why is she so hated?" asks Meester. "And if she is truly harmless, why is she so threatening?"

Throughout this run I've come to recognize these common reactions, and eventually understand them without resentment. Yet somehow, each time I enter the stage, as I'm faced with the audience who laughs or sneers, I'm struck with the loneliness that I can only imagine a woman like Curley's wife must feel — the desperation for conversation, respect, and above all, dignity. Each time, I'm caught off-guard when I lose it.

Previously: Anna Gunn's defense of Skyler White. [HuffPo]



6 Comments / Post A Comment

Scarlet Jane@facebook

saw this last night-- my audience didn't laugh when she died, but i did think the occasional laughing throughout was odd. where did the op-ed run?

FlufferNutter

@Scarlet Jane@facebook HuffPo

vittoriama

Very very cool @v

talie

I saw Meester in this role and she was fantastic. I was likewise shocked by how many people laughed at all the insults slung her way, and even laughed at her violent death. It caught me totally off-guard, since I assumed the view of her as a tragic character was pretty universal.

She's blamed for ruining Lenny and George's dream, but right before Lenny kills her, she's on her way to escape to a better life too (she runs into him in the barn with a suitcase under her arm). Why doesn't anyone (in the audience) seem to care that her dream of escaping the ranch was also shattered - permanently, unlike George/Lenny who still have a chance?

(That all being said, I wonder what the reaction would have been with a young audience had the lead actors not been Franco and O'Dowd. Kind of hard to make teenage girls side with anyone but Franco.)

FlufferNutter

@talie I would have a very difficult time containing my rage if I saw this with an audience that laughed at the moments you mentioned. How awful! I really love that Leighton wrote about the experience. I know it's terribly difficult for artists to have an audience interpret or experience their work in a way so antithetical to their intent (Kara Walker's latest exhibit comes to mind), so it's great that she had a platform to discuss that.

It does seem that the younger age of the audience has something to do with it, but does that mean there is a lack of feminism or understanding of women's issues among that generation? UGH. Just sucky all around.

talie

@FlufferNutter Her article was great!

I wonder how much of it is their age, and how much of it is the fact that a lot of the audience (when I went, at least) were visiting from out of the country, and maybe had a more difficult time understanding the nuances and/or weren't familiar with Steinbeck. Still, though, her neck being snapped seems to be something that would transcend cultural and language boundaries.

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