Members say: Disappointing, Slow, Great acting, Ambitious, Indulgent

About the show

Classic Stage Company's world premiere by Tony Award winner Terrence McNally explores the rich history of the Ballets Russes, Sergei Diaghilev’s itinerant Russian ballet company.

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Surrounded by great talents of art, design, and music, the tempestuous relationship between Diaghilev and dancer Vaslav Nijinsky revolutionizes dance forever. Directed by Tony Winner and CSC Artistic Director John Doyle. 'Fire and Air' contains nudity and adult themes and is intended for a mature audience.

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See: Critics' Reviews | Members' Reviews


"Ambitious if disappointing new play...His free-flowing dramaturgy ignores the physics of time and space to stab at the heart of some hidden universal truth. Unfortunately, he often misses and pokes the gallbladder of reductive cliché...Doyle's unencumbered staging meshes nicely with McNally's style...McNally's propensity to recycle ideas highlights the unifying themes of his universe...It may not be transcendent, but it is unmistakably human." Full Review

The Hollywood Reporter

"You'll want to learn more about the legendary dance company Ballets Russes...Not because 'Fire and Air' is so good, but rather because the play is so lifeless that the real story must certainly be more interesting...There are plenty of problems besides the writing...Doyle's propensity for minimalism for its own sake has long since worn out its welcome...Judging by the lack of heat and airlessness in 'Fire and Air,' it's clear that more rehearsal, and several rewrites, were desperately needed." Full Review

The New York Times

"Hodge blusters, whines, and suffers wonderfully, coloring in the character all the way to the outlines, and a little beyond...But if Diaghilev is dramatic, he doesn’t much lend himself to drama...Starved of dramatic propulsion, the play devolves into a symposium on aesthetics...There may yet be a moving work to be mined from McNally’s research and sympathy for Diaghilev. It would need more characters actually doing things...Aside from a few golden moments, 'Fire and Air' is inert." Full Review

Time Out New York

"Under normal circumstances, McNally’s boneless assemblage of scenes would be merely dull, but we’ve all spent the last 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...Miscast and misguided by director Doyle, Hodge spends a lot of time sitting on a chair as the others look on. The play is airless and soporific: 'Afternoon of a Yawn.'" Full Review

Lighting & Sound America

"McNally is in icon-painting mode, and 'Fire and Air' is a largely static affair...As played by Douglas Hodge, Diaghilev is a tangle of mannerisms, a series of grand gestures without an organizing principle...Doyle's direction gives these often-aimless proceedings the fluidity of a dream, and he has assembled a notably overqualified supporting cast...The playwright's famous wit seems to have gone on holiday, and he seems to be struggling to say something profound about the making of art." Full Review

Cultural Weekly

"The performance and Doyle's fast-paced staging aren't enough to pull together McNally's unfocused script and provide a clear, dynamic picture of a genius...There is so much material and potential themes to choose from...McNally includes too much...And short-changes them as a result...Even with this kitchen-sink approach, many fascinating and vital elements are left out or minimized...A potentially fascinating subject, but there's more air than fire here." Full Review

DC Theatre Scene

"Who better to dramatize all this than the playwright who won one of his four Tony Awards for 'Master Class'...Yet, 'Fire and Air,' though finely acted and designed, is ultimately too diffuse, imprecise and precious to allow the audience to discover Diaghilev’s greatness; it offers us too little in the way of enlightenment...A few words about the two younger actors...While there is much that is undeniably appealing about their presence, there is just a touch of the ludicrous in it as well." Full Review

AM New York

"An intense and interesting drama on the subject, albeit underdeveloped and patchy...Doyle provides the kind of minimalist production that he has become his trademark, using an empty space that evokes a ballet studio. This serves the play well by keeping the focus on Hodge’s flamboyant and forceful performance as Diaghilev...Perhaps 'Fire and Air' ought to be further distilled into a two-man drama, just Diaghilev and Nijinsky, telling their stories and squaring off." Full Review

Times Square Chronicles

"'Fire and Air' has cast some of the best actors in New York...We see little dancing and maybe that could have helped this play, that holds little interest except for the sex scenes and the all but nakedness of Nijinsky...Doyle’s concept is interesting with gold chairs and mirrors, but was this just so he could seduce the audience to view the sexual scenes like a voyeur?...I have a feeling Nijinksy would have been wearing a #MeToo pin." Full Review


"Heartbreaking is an apt word for McNally's obvious love for these complicated characters whose ferocious self-regard is of a piece with their compulsion to produce art. It's what links the artist and the impresario. It's ultimately anti-romantic and perhaps lacking in conventionally dramatic narrative, because so much is hidden in the heart (not to mention the bedroom). Yet in McNally's compassionate vision and Doyle's exquisite evocation, it's terribly human." Full Review


"The two gifted young dancers and lovers we meet in 'Fire and Air' never get to dance. Which given the rather labored pace, is sorely missed...What happens during the two hour running time is often confusing. Even a knowledgeable theatergoer is likely to miss the nuances of the interactions...While Mr. Doyle's design and direction are disappointing, bravos are due to his designers. And though 'Fire and Air' has some witty dialogue, it's lesser rather than better-than-ever McNally." Full Review

Gotham Playgoer

"It is sad to think that this amorphous mess came from the pen of four-time Tony winner Terrence McNally. How the mighty have fallen! If there was any point to this Cliff Notes version of the career of ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev, I failed to grasp it...The second act is excruciating with embarrassing surrealistic touches. It was a thoroughly dispiriting experience." Full Review

The Wrap

"Nijinsky and Diaghilev are so conscious of their every intention and motive that their on-stage action is smothered in talk and utterly lacks subtext. Hodge plays Diaghilev with great verve, but after a while the character’s verbal dissertations are enough to add the word 'psychiatrist' to this legend’s many credits...The real disappointment arrives in the playwright’s take on such historic figures...A talented cast brings more hot air than fire to this group of giants turned ciphers." Full Review

Wolf Entertainment Guide

"McNally ventures into challenging territory in 'Fire and Air'...The subject matter is interesting whether or not one is informed about this era of dance history, and Hodge portrays Diaghilev charismatically, but often over the top...It is a stretch to make everything seem very Russian or Chekhov-like...The overall result is a production that has its fascinating and informative moments, but also is ultimately overwrought and not very deep." Full Review

Financial Times (UK)

"Doyle leaves the stage empty except for two mirrors and a few chairs. That minimalist approach may not capture the more colorful and eclectic aspects of Diaghilev's style, but it does evoke his ambition to wipe the slate clean and revolutionize the art form...Though well-acted, the supporting roles all seem incidental...Another problem is the absence of dance...'Fire and Air' thus feels less than fully satisfying." Full Review

Broadway & Me

"'Fire and Air' isn't a good show...Under the direction of the notorious minimalist John Doyle, the show has been trimmed to just six actors who trudge through Diaghilev's life on a nearly bare set...Bits and pieces of Diaghilev's biography are cited, but they pass by in a stream of scenes that are no more involving than reading an excerpt from Diaghilev's Wikipedia bio would be. There's no sense of why we should care about this man and no real conflict to pull us into his story." Full Review


"Alternately frenzied and tedious...McNally's bustling historical drama, despite its title can often feel airless and gives off precious few sparks...McNally’s portrait of the artist as a boil-covered egoist may stay true to the facts and incidents of Diaghilev’s storied career, but this portrait’s overall aspect and purpose are difficult to decipher...Moments like the penultimate scene at the barre feel like fresh gusts of air, but they're too few and far between to catch your breath." Full Review

Daily Beast

"McNally’s play is stately and proudly wordy; more an animated meditation on desire, art, and power than a raw deconstruction of a once-fruitful, now-screwed-up relationship...The play is full of barbs, dark wisecracks, and spirited cris de coeur about love and art. It also assumes your knowledge of Diaghilev and Nijinsky is as wide and embracing as the playwright’s...But a play shouldn’t need a program...You may be left with more questions than answers." Full Review

New York Magazine / Vulture

"Why is McNally’s 'Fire and Air' such leaden drama?...The play almost never achieves the loft and ferocity implied by its titular elements...You can cast a beautiful, talented actor, but after two hours of hearing about his character’s genius without getting to witness a performance of it, that faith is going to wear thin...Not only does Doyle shy away from evoking the marvels inherent in the play’s material, he also fails to add drive and punctuation to McNally’s meandering text." Full Review

Village Voice

"McNally's new play gives a hasty and superficial guided tour of this rich but heavily worked-over material...McNally manages to sandwich in a good bit of artistic discussion...It barely registers, however, because Doyle and actor Douglas Hodge have built a Diaghilev who is almost maniacally unappealing and unmagical...The rest of the cast largely does better...All do as well as they can with material that mainly seems predictable." Full Review

Broadway Blog

"The plot, if there is one, is as thin as a dancer’s leotard...McNally’s script plays with a dreamy reality, but the production’s physical limitations often left me wondering what was happening and where. The talented ensemble relishes in his catchy turn of phrase, which avid theatergoers have appreciated for more than 50 years...When the play’s themes of love emerge, though, it’s impossible not to be moved." Full Review


"Needs less talk and more dance...Doyle deftly allows McNally's version of the Diaghilev story to come alive scene by scene...Unfortunately, there's a paucity of dancing in this production--and it keeps the piece from catching fire...If 'Fire and Air' comes up short as a drama, it is a heart-felt paean to Diagheliv and his Ballets Russes. It might not be one of McNally's best works, but it surely gives you a provocative portrait of the great Diagheliv." Full Review


“The problem in Hodge’s performance is that the energy and bluster starts at high volume from the moment we meet the man, and then stays there…He is a legend in his own mind, and he gets to be a tiring one…There are wonderful performances here from noted performers. But the story itself starts at A and ends at Z without much traction in between. Diaghilev rails and rants, Nikinsky stretches and preens, and we try, mostly unsuccessfully, to care.” Full Review

Off Off Online

"It’s a distinguished company of major actors in comparatively minor roles...Doyle directs, and he mostly does an uncharacteristically straightforward job...McNally’s customary wit and consummate craftsmanship are on ample display. But 'Fire and Air', when not philosophizing about the creation of art, name-dropping, or serving up juicy backstage intrigue, seems to exist mainly to let its Diaghilev take center stage and dazzle us. Fortunately, Douglas Hodge is well up to that." Full Review

The Stage (UK)

"The flames of artistic passion only flicker intermittently in McNally’s new, surprisingly inert and dreary depiction of the muse that Nijinsky provided for Diaghilev...It’s a static piece: all tell and no show...There’s little of interest in McNally’s play and such fine actors as Glover, Mazzie, and Mason are wasted in underwritten roles...Two giant mirrors dominate director Doyle’s set design, but the play feels like it is constantly looking at its own reflection without showing anything il... Full Review

See: Critics' Reviews | Members' Reviews

Absorbing, Great acting, Disappointing, Fluffy

See it if You want to see great acting and an interesting story and do not need real depth.

Don't see it if You are expecting to compare this to some of Terrance McNally's great works. You want a detailed exploration of this story.

Flat, Dull, Inert

See it if you want to see a great cast try to breath life into an inert piece

Don't see it if you're expecting excitement or revelations

Hot air bonanza

See it if Enjoyable cast of Glover, Mason, Mazzie, Johnson. Learn some Russian cultural history. Mostly very good writing.

Don't see it if Leads are insufferable, playing over the top artistes, easily wearing out their welcome. Minimalist set of two giant mirrors is tres boring.

Also Act Two mini dream sequence imagining Diaghilev's star dancers past an... Read more Read less

Funny, Absorbing, Clever, Edgy, Great acting

See it if If you are a fan of unique period pieces and are into the arts and understand the mentality of some of those in the business.

Don't see it if Edgy, ambitious yet sparcely staged drama is not your bag.

Also With a fantastic cast of 6 people I've already seen on the Broadway st... Read more Read less

Great acting, Intelligent, Confusing, Disappointing, Poor staging

See it if You like very wordy plays with minimal sets and few transitions between scenes to help you understand the plot development. Beautiful words.

Don't see it if You don’t want to work very hard to keep up with what’s going on, character motives and reasoning. With the minimal set it’s extra hard.

Boring, Great acting, Confusing, Slow, Entertaining

See it if You are a ballet fan and enjoy stories about ballet impresarios and famous dancers. Nijinsky is the star ballerina. It is a McNally play.

Don't see it if Dislike homosexuality and are disinterested in ballet and creative temperaments. Slow-moving.

Also Marsha Mason and Marin Mazie are wonderful to watch. The young actor p... Read more Read less

Disappointing, Dull script, Great cast, wasted.

See it if Can't praise this show. Talented cast is wasted. 90% of the action happens off stage. The onstage dialogue is tedious. .

Don't see it if See above.

Also I worked at CSC back in 1975 and it's always been a soft spot in my he... Read more Read less

Boring, Confusing, Bad direction

See it if you've already decided you like John Doyle's style.

Don't see it if you don't have to. Douglas Hodge is a fascinating performer but that one positive element isn't enough to justify this whole show.

Funny, Absorbing, Great acting, Intelligent, Entertaining

See it if You're interested in the arts especially the history of the 20th Century.

Don't see it if You're already well versed in the history of 20th Century arts

Funny, Absorbing, Thought-provoking, Quirky

See it if you are interested in the famous impresario, Diaghilev, and the ballet Russe.

Don't see it if you have no interest in historical moments of the ballet.

Great acting, Indulgent, Confusing, Disappointing, Entertaining

See it if you have a strong interest in the Ballet Russe.

Don't see it if you want a show that has a clear plot and comprehensible continuity.

Also While this show has a very talented cast, there is just so much that c... Read more Read less

Flat, Banal, Disappointing, Slow, Unfocused

See it if you're an actor needing to see a strong supporting cast (Marsha Mason, John Glover, Marin Mazzie) milk the most out of a script that skims.

Don't see it if you've read Nijinsky's diaries, are a ballet enthusiast, or may pull your hair out upon seeing Diaghilev as if played by Zero Mostel.

Great acting, Indulgent, Great staging

See it if You are interested in The Ballets Rousse. The characterizations were not very interesting, but the fabulous cast knows how to ham it up.

Don't see it if You like a big show and set.

Confusing, Disappointing, Slow, Great singing

See it if you are a fan of specific cast members...

Don't see it if you are looking for a piece that is easy to follow and has a set...

Great acting, Disappointing, Cliched

See it if You enjoy a top cast in a mediocre play, sparse set design, and unfocused plot

Don't see it if You want to come away with a clear understanding of Ballet Russe

Ambitious, Great acting, Intense, Slow, Minimalistic set

See it if you are into stories depicting emotions and inner state of mind. Great acting with slow beginning picking up substance in the 2 act.

Don't see it if you enjoy more straightforward storytelling. Here it is subtle and strange at times. The set is minimalistic.

Edgy, Great acting, Intelligent, Slow, Passionate

See it if you enjoy “serious theatre,” terrific performances (give Douglas Hodge all the awards now), or stories about dance and passion.

Don't see it if you like lighter fare and more “consumable” narratives. This one can be tough to follow if your attention lapses (which it very well may).

Ambitious, Disappointing, Overrated, Great staging

See it if see more

Don't see it if see more

Also partners 85 % & my 70 %... Read more Read less

Ambitious, Great acting, Intelligent, Indulgent, Disappointing

See it if you enjoy great acting and Terrence McNally albeit not as his best

Don't see it if confusing cliched drama with male nudity is not for you

Ambitious, Great acting, Intense, Disappointing, Cliched

See it if you're interested in a rather standard take on the "abusive hot mess genius" trope; you like CSC's spare staging and intense performances.

Don't see it if you're interested in learning about ballets russes or why diaghilev was considered a revolutionary in his field

Also i've seen some wonderfully dynamic productions on CSC's spare stages, ... Read more Read less

Ambitious, Great acting, Must see, Slow, Entertaining

See it if You want to see a top tier cast and creative team in a small venue. The performances were excellent, the story okay, and a heartbreaking end

Don't see it if You’re looking for big theater, don’t like erotic works, are a prude, or just really really want something to happen. Lots of quiet moments

Ambitious, Indulgent, Disappointing, Cliched, Slow

See it if Listless, dull & chronologically confusing, bio-drama captures nothing of the exciting creative ferment of the time Contived McNally prose

Don't see it if Hodge huffs & puffs as Diaghilev but to no avail; other excellent actors wasted Doyle's minimal staging a huge misfire with little dancing!!

Confusing, Unfocused, Has potential, Episodic, Masterful acting

See it if you are interested in the history of the characters or enjoy the actors in the show--they perform the material they are given exquisitely.

Don't see it if you are expecting a clear, linear story line. The piece jumps in time in an often confusing way if you are not expecting it.

Also Potential for a very good show here about the legacy of the Ballets Ru... Read more Read less

Confusing, Disappointing, Insipid, Slow

See it if you like to see the actors, they're pretty okay

Don't see it if you're expecting McNally's comic writing and tasteful drama. this one is very different.

Disappointing, Missing sexual excitement

See it if you know nothing about the Ballets Russes and want to learn about it.

Don't see it if you are expecting an absorbing two hours. While the acting is good, there is little eroticism between the male characters.

Also Too bad someone like Robert Fairchild or someone who could bring a bal... Read more Read less

Cast & Creatives (13)