Get our free email newsletter with just one click

Fire and Air review at Classic Stage Company, New York – ‘unilluminating’

Douglas Hodge stars in Fire and Air at Classic Stage Company, New York. Photo: Joan Marcus Douglas Hodge stars in Fire and Air at Classic Stage Company, New York. Photo: Joan Marcus

The flames of artistic passion only flicker intermittently in Terrence McNally’s new, surprisingly inert and dreary depiction of the muse that the 17-year-old Nijinsky provided for Russian dance impresario Diaghilev.

For a play about the creation and meaning of movement, it’s a static piece: all tell and no show.
McNally, who will turn 80 this year, is a four-time Tony award winner so knows his craft. He has also previously explored the single-mindedness, drive and ruthlessness of the artist and their relationship to younger proteges in Master Class, his 1995 play about opera singer Maria Callas.

Douglas Hodge plays Diaghilev with a streak of white hair running through his dyed dark locks like a lightning bolt. But though Hodge is a usually charismatic actor, who is more than capable of delivering his own performance fireworks, we learn little about Diaghilev’s methods or motivations, beyond a predatory interest in younger men that’s unlikely to be reciprocated.

There’s little of interest in McNally’s play and such fine Broadway actors as John Glover, Marin Mazzie and Marsha Mason, as Diaghilev’s best friend, benefactor and long-suffering maid respectively, are wasted in underwritten roles.

James Cusati-Moyer, as Nijinsky, and Jay Armstrong Johnson, as the dancer who replaces Nijinsky in Diaghilev’s affections, fail to raise the stakes.

Two giant mirrors dominate director John Doyle’s set design, but the play feels like it is constantly looking at its own reflection without showing anything illuminating.

We need your help…

When you subscribe to The Stage, you’re investing in our journalism. And our journalism is invested in supporting theatre and the performing arts.

The Stage is a family business, operated by the same family since we were founded in 1880. We do not receive government funding. We are not owned by a large corporation. Our editorial is not dictated by ticket sales.

We are fully independent, but this means we rely on revenue from readers to survive.

Help us continue to report on great work across the UK, champion new talent and keep up our investigative journalism that holds the powerful to account. Your subscription helps ensure our journalism can continue.

Subscribers to The Stage get 10% off The Stage Tickets’ price
A disappointing biographical play about Diaghilev and his muse Nijinksy that fails to bring either to life