“Every night before the show we do a fight call, we do a music call, and then we do a nose-color call, where I get worked on for about 15 minutes.”
You never really think about the ramifications of noses until, well, you have to. Shawn Pfautsch, 33, is now playing the nasally well-endowed, and challenged, Cyrano in House Theatre’s swashbuckling adaptation of Edmond Rostand’s 1897 classic. He had to think about noses. A few days at the beach, for example, wreaked havoc on the match between Pfautsch’s real face and fake schnoz. Hence the nightly color adjustments.
“In rehearsals, I wore a store-bought practice nose,” Pfautsch says. “We had to make sure that none of the fight choreography or any of my various and sundry stage business would get in the way. And we wanted to make sure I could breathe out of it, because those swordfights are strenuous and I didn’t want to get to the end of a fight and pass out.”“We were very particular in what we wanted,” he adds, “and Ora [Jewell-Busche, who does makeup at Lyric Opera] was amazing at giving us that. We wanted something that looked like an extension of my own nose, we wanted something that wouldn’t fall off. We went through three or four iterations till we found one that was the length we wanted. She builds a new nose for me every week.”
“I suppose if I were a Method actor,” Pfautsch says, “I would have put one on and gone to a bar to see what people would say to me.” He’s not, I guess, and he didn’t—but I would have paid to be a fly on the wall there.
Pfautsch—a House founding member who went to school at Southern Methodist University with Cyrano director Matt Hawkins—says that his character’s simultaneously confident/insecure mindset is “a natural place for me. I think it’s one reason Matt cast me in the role.”
Still, Pfautsch adds, “I was a little bit apprehensive about what Cyrano’s ‘panache’ is and what that means. Matt and Stacy [Stoltz, Hawkins’s real-life wife—and Cyrano’s love interest, Roxane] both assured me from the beginning, ‘Don’t worry about inventing what that is, because you have panache.’ But it’s still always something in the back of my head.”
Pfautsch’s portrayal balances arrogance and sweetness on a knife’s edge, a balance that wasn’t easy to attain—especially in the crucial first scene, which concludes with what he calls Cyrano’s “fight and write” feat. “We went through about a dozen iterations of that scene!” he says. “We started with this jovial, ‘I have status so I don’t need to raise my voice’ version of Cyrano. But late in the process, in previews, we decided to juice that first scene and make him a much more—for lack of a better word—‘loud’ presence.”
After Cyrano closes, Pfautsch says, “I have my storefront-theater dance card punched until May.” First up, in November, is a reprise of his mandolin-strumming role in the Hypocrites’ remount of Pirates of Penzance.
Pfautsch also officially has his writer’s hat back on (his 2007 Hatfield & McCoy, produced by House, was nominated for a Jeff award). He’s one of three playwrights who’ve been asked to adapt Moby-Dick for the stage and to workshop their scripts next spring.
“I am a huge Melville fan,” he says. “Honestly, what draws me to [Moby-Dick] is that no matter how hard I try to explain the why and how of my interest in it, I get caught in the labyrinth of its depth.” Harpooning the Great White Whale: something Cyrano might have attempted if he’d been a sailor, not a soldier.