Who is Curly McLain?

bootsCurly is one of the principle characters in Oklahoma, in case you didn’t know.  I’ve been cast to play him in the VOS production opening this April. So, I figured I post my thoughts about him here, just for fun.

According to some folks, he’s about as deep as a dried up mud puddle, but I don’t believe that. It seems to me that there’s a lot going on with Curly, and he’s come from a place of contemplation and thought to get to where he is at the beginning of Act 1, Scene 1.

You see, all cowboys sit in the saddle for hours on end, just thinking, contemplating. And what’s Curly got on his mind? One thing: the future. Part of that future is Laurey, a big part, and he’s willing to give up anything and everything to win her over. Another part of it for Curly is the changing land itself: fences going up, crops coming up, folks staking out their place in world. While Jud hides away from the reality of the changing landscape, holed up in the smokehouse, Curly sees a challenge, something to take on.

In a way, that’s one of his major flaws, thinking that his future can be won over, and that Laurey is part of his conquest, but that’s the way he is, that’s what he knows. It’s how he deals with the world. Aunt Eller, seeing the strength in Curly, and his stubborn determination to succeed, is drawn to him . She can see that he’ll be around when the dust settles and all the others have disappeared.

All characters have choices, too. There are a couple of points where things could go either way if Curly doesn’t make the right move. For one thing, what is he thinking when he confronts Jud in the smokehouse? Does he think Jud can be scared off? Is he thinking that he might have to kill him? I’m not sure Curly himself has this figured out. He just knows he has to go deal with a problem. Conquest.

And there’s a point where Curly goes all the way, throws in everything he’s got, to win over Laurey. Does he do it because he doesn’t want Jud to “get her”? Does he just want to win? Or does he see his future, all the things that he’s dreamed about, sitting on his horse, enjoying the sunshine and the crops and the open spaces, all about to disappear?

Curly reminds me a bit like one of Louis L’Amour’s Sackett family. Like Tell Sackett, maybe. He’s kind of a loner who’s good at breaking horses and roping cattle and shooting his pistol, but brighter than his station, and whiles away the hours doing the repetitive saddle-work whilst contemplating a different life, settling down and raising boys. The hardest thing to secure for that future, and an absolutely essential element? A good woman. I know, I know – this kind of thinking totally objectifies women and reduces them to a piece of property, but that’s the x-factor here. Women of this time are coming into their own and don’t want to be someone’s property or conquested or whatever. That’s where the sparks begin to fly between Curly and Laurey.

There’s lot more to think about than just the few ideas I’ve started with, but it’s a start…

more later – joel

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