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Scarred Inside and Out

Date: Oct 26, 2015

How amazing prosthetics reflect a soldier's internal anguish


Some shows featuring disfigured characters eschew complicated makeup in favor of asking viewers to imagine how they look (see The Elephant Man and Violet). But for the Roundabout Theatre Company's Ugly Lies the Bone -- Lindsey Ferrentino's heartrending play about a severely burned vet (Mamie Gummer) trying to resume her life in her small Florida hometown -- the creative team wanted audiences to get a stark picture of what she's grappling with. So they turned to Vincent T. Schicchi and Thomas Denier, Jr., a pair of prosthetics masters with extensive experience in film, TV, and theatre, who recently teamed up to form a collaborative studio. Their shockingly realistic scars complement Gummer's searing performance as we watch her struggle with intense physical and emotional pain. The red, scaly burns blistering across her face, neck, and body mirror her inner turmoil as she tries to repair her broken body and relationships.

"We knew we didn't want her scars to look disgusting, we didn't want people to turn away," says Schicchi. "But, for lack of a better word, they needed to look pathetic. We wanted the audience to have sympathy for her." To come up with the design, the pair read the script and did a lot of research, combing the internet for images of IED burns (something not recommended for the fainthearted), and chatting with Gummer and the director, Patricia McGregor. Interestingly, since Ugly Lies the Bone is performed in Roundabout's intimate, 62-seat black box theatre, they took a cinematic rather than a stage approach to the project. "Often in theatre, you're working in a big house with a proscenium stage, so you punch things up and add harsher shadows to compensate for distance and light," says Schicchi, whose Broadway credits include Disney's Beauty and the Beast and the Cyrano revival with Kevin Kline. "But this is right in front of you, just like film. It's not a heavy theatrical light, you're seeing it almost like in real life."

That said, unlike many movie shoots when Schicchi and Denier only have a few days to prepare, the duo had four weeks to develop the pieces for Ugly Lies the Bone, which allowed them to create impressive and easy-to-apply prosthetics. "We used encapsulated silicone pieces, creating a vinyl skin with dewy silicone sandwiched in between," says Schicchi. "Instead of standard greasepaint, we went with these alcohol colors that don't rub off. These pieces are thinner than deli-sliced turkey because we didn't want to restrict Mamie's movement, or give her issues with turning her head or opening her eyes. We thought it would take about 90 minutes to apply but I give makeup artist Kelly Budd credit for this, within a week she was able to whittle it down to an hour with a 10-minute removal process. If this was a film, we would anchor it for a 14-hour day. But Mamie needs to get in and out of it quickly, especially on two-show days."


Part of the theatre's nine-season-old Roundabout Underground series, which spotlights new works by emerging playwrights, Ugly Lies the Bone is keeping Schicchi and Denier busy since Gummer needs a brand-new set of pieces applied to her every single performance. "Every single prosthetic gets discarded, which is great for us!" Schicchi says. "Not only do the removers not allow it to be glued again, the encapsulated silicone gets melted with a little drop of acetone and blends into the skin seamlessly for a one-time use. On Broadway shows I've worked on, the actors kept their prosthetics on between shows. But it's such a short show [80 minutes no intermission], there was too much downtime."

While that may sound like an awful lot of work for a small (though thematically epic) Off-Broadway show, Schicchi and Denier are used to putting in long hours for even shorter returns. "Recently, on the new Ghostbusters, Tom and I spent a tough two weeks not sleeping more than two hours a night, all for a five-minute scene in the movie," Schicchi says. "A cut throat or a bullet hit you see for two seconds, we spend a week laboring over. For us, if the payoff is there for even one second, it's worth it."


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Photos by Joan Marcus

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