CINCINNATI -- “Cyrano de Bergerac” is a masterfully written play, filled with romance and poetic language about love.
But whenever the play is mentioned, the thing most people want to know about is “The Nose.”
Cincinnati Shakespeare Company will open its version of the show on Friday. And yes, talk of “The Nose” is first on everyone’s list.
“Cyrano – the character – is a perfect mix of bravado and insecurity,” said Jeremy Dubin, the actor who plays the role. “But in spite of all of his many accomplishments, he continues to define himself by that one thing he regards as a flaw – his nose.”
Points Of Comparison
In case you don’t know the story, Edmond Rostand’s 1897 play is best-known in the United States through a translation written by Anthony Burgess, author of “A Clockwork Orange.”
All this talk of the nose is great fun. But in reality, it really is a major technical concern of any theater that dares to produce the show. It has to be just the right design, and, of course, just the right size. If it’s too big, it’s distracting and the actor ends up looking like Pinocchio. If it’s too small ... well, why even bother to do the show?
So where do you start? You look at other stage productions, or movies, since that’s what most people will use for comparison. The nose most Americans are familiar with is in 1987’s “Roxanne,” Steve Martin’s updated telling of the story. The nose is passable on the screen. But it’s really long, to the point of being cartoonish. Put that nose on an actor on a small stage such as Cincinnati Shakespeare’s and it probably would look unnatural, like a nose transplant gone bad.
In 1990, Gerard Depardieu gave a brilliant performance as Cyrano. His nose was only slightly less robust than Martin’s, but somehow it came off a little more believable.
And Dubin’s nose?
“We’ve tried several different noses so far,” said Amanda McGee, the company’s resident costume designer. “It’s difficult to tell how it will work until Jeremy actually puts it on. And then comes the hard part – seeing how it functions in rehearsal.”
Unlike the smooth, cylindrical noses employed by Martin and Depardieu, McGee and assistant costume designer Stormie McClelland are going for something with a little more angularity.
It’s not easy, though. You can’t just slap clay on an actor’s face and push him out onto the stage. Remember, Dubin has to wear this as many as eight times a week. He has to race around the stage with it, fall to the floor occasionally and engage in some very physical sword-fighting.
“I’m not too worried about injuring the nose,” said McGee. “It’s more an issue of sweat and making sure Jeremy feels like it’s not going to come off in the middle of an intimate wooing scene.”
Breaking Down The Process
Here’s how they have done it.
Step 1. Make a cast of Dubin’s face so that they can construct a prosthetic nose that fits seamlessly over his own. McClelland creates a cast using plaster bandage. After 10 minutes, it hardens and can be removed, giving the costumers a perfect negative mold of Dubin’s face.
Step 2. The negative mold is filled with plaster of Paris to create a positive mold. Since that material is much slower to dry, this process can take three to seven days.
Step 3. Using the positive mold, they use clay to sculpt a new nose. When they achieve the correct proportions, they use orange peel to replicate the pores and texture of a real nose.
Step 4. Once they’re satisfied with the nose, they create a negative mold of it.
Step 5. Now comes the actual creation of the prosthetic nose. They use a material called gel foam, which starts out as small, gelatin-like cubes. The cubes are microwaved until they become the consistency of gravy. They pour the liquid into the negative mold, then lower the plaster mold of Dubin's face into the negative mold.
Step 6. The gel hardens within 5 minutes. They remove it from the mold and trim any messy edges.
Step 7. The fake nose is treated with makeup to match Dubin’s face. Then it is attached to him with spirit gum and latex.
“So far, we’re pretty happy with what we’ve made,” said McGee. “Of course, we’ll keep trying to see if we can make something better.”
So the one in the photos isn’t the final product?
“Oh, no,” laughed McGee. “We can’t give away everything before opening night, can we?”
“Cyrano de Bergerac”
Sept. 11-Oct. 3
Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, 719 Race St., Downtown
Information: 513-381-2273; cincyshakes.com