Leighton Meester on playing Curley’s “bitch, tramp, tart” wife: “If she is truly harmless, why is she so threatening?”
Leighton 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.