• Theater

Fire and Air


Time Out says

Theater review by Helen Shaw

Terrence McNally couldn’t have known when he started writing Fire and Air that, come production time, his impressionistic portrait of Sergei Diaghilev (Douglas Hodge) would mirror a contemporary devil. Diaghilev was the hot-tempered impresario behind the early-20th-century Ballets Russes; he commissioned major works such as Afternoon of a Faun, in which his lover, choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky (James Cusati-Moyer), pushed the form forward. Under normal circumstances, McNally’s boneless assemblage of scenes would be merely dull, but we’ve all spent the past four months thinking about another bullying producer who demanded sexual thralldom from his stars. Harvey Weinstein’s stink makes McNally’s already disappointing drama seem even worse: Diaghilev’s misbehavior—rule by tantrum, assaultive relationships with the teenage talent—sounds all too familiar, and so the play’s sympathy for Diaghilev’s “commitment to beauty” appears not just lazy but galling.

Even if we stick to its sins against art, Fire and Air is a wreck. McNally fills his little world with one-dimensional sketches of Diaghilev’s cousin Dima (John Glover), funder Misia (Marin Mazzie) and nanny Dunya (Marsha Mason); the dialogue is all tin-eared exposition, and despite a frantic pace that whizzes us from Paris to Venice to Monte Carlo, every scene’s the same. (Diaghilev sulks; someone assures him he’s adored; he describes a dance or a piece of music.) Miscast and misguided by director John Doyle, Hodge spends a lot of time sitting on a golden chair as the others look moonily on. The play is airless and soporific: Afternoon of a Yawn.

Classic Stage Company (Off Broadway). By Terrence McNally. Directed by John Doyle. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs. One intermission.

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