"Oh, that this too, too solid wax would melt."
It's Hamlet's line (almost), but the production crew was muttering it Friday night at the Arena Stage. A fresh coat of wax on the stage, laid down just before the opening preview, helped the actors to follow Shakepeare's instruction: "Speak the lines, I pray you, trippingly . . ."
The problem began when someone noticed scuff-marks on the stage floor - a special problem in the Arena, where the whole audience looks down at the actors.
Assistant designer Sally Cunningham suggested a new coat of wax, an experimental patch was tried, the actors (wearing shoes with treads on them) tried it out and, Cunningham says, "It seemed okay."
"It was not okay. When the whole stage was waxed, actors began slipping. An old theater remedy, Coca-Cola mixed with water, was hastily sprinkled on the boards and the show went on.
It wasn't enough. The slippery floor gave an added poignancy to such lines as Hamlet's:
"Hold, hold, my heart!
And you, my sinews, grow not instant old, But bear me stiffly up . . . "
Robert Prosky, who takes the role aid he was happy that nobody was of the Player King in this production, inured during the performance.
At one point," he recalled," I asked our production manager, George Spalding, how it felt to be the production manager for the Ice Capades."
Drastic measures were called for, and the audience broke out in applause during intermission (the only scheduled intermission) when a maintenance crew came out with mops and buckets to cut the wax with ammonia.
This supplied new evidence that something was rotten in the state of Denamark. But the floor remained slippery.
No more intermission were scheduled, but Hamlet had a big duel with Laertes coming up and the production crew was worried that the actors might suffer a fate worse than the sword's envenomed tip.
So a second, unscheduled intermission was held. More Coca-Cola was put down. And this time it worked. But the time Fortinbras bid his four captains to "Bear Hamlet like a soldier to the stage,'they were able to do so with a properly soleman tread.
Shakespeare never said it, but by the time the show has iis formal opening tomorrow night, someone may want to slip in another immortal line:
"Things go better with Coke."