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Fire and Air

From 33 critic and 158 member reviews
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. More…

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.

Theater Pizzazz

"Hodge’s passionate performance leaves an indelible impression of the Russian impresario...It’s a riveting story, and McNally tells it with purpose and economy...Doyle’s signature style of minimalism, fluidity, and precision serves McNally’s narrative beautifully...A production that tells the story of an extraordinary artist – brought to life by a team of collaborators worthy of his artistry." 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


“If Hodge stands out as Diaghilev, Glover also offers a strong and solid Dmitry. But what's missing from the play is any depth to the characters which basically receive a superficial treatment. Missing too are fascinating details to be found in other sources, such as learning of Nijinsky's disgust every morning to awaken with the stains of Diaghilev's black hair-dye on the pillow.” Full Review


"A docudrama with an impressive cast...As the play frequently switches locale, lighting changes and sounds effects aren't enough to make it clear where we are at any given moment, creating an overall sense of confusion. Still, the play offers wonderful performances and an interesting peek into a little-known world. And for people who take their ballet seriously, this piece is a must, with its realistic exploration of a man who had so much influence on the arts of the 20th century." Full Review

Stage Buddy

"McNally writes reverently about the art form without showing much dancing at all on stage...The torment one can feel for unrequited love is universal and 'Fire and Air' mirrors it quite admirably. Particularly, Hodge’s remarkably anguished performance allows the audience to feel the weight of the emotions Diaghilev must have felt. You can almost perceive it in the off-stage ballet, in the dance of the mind." Full Review

Front Row Center

"The building blocks, though individually brilliant, don't complement one another...The biggest clash comes between the writing and the direction. The play is paced like a racehorse...The audience isn't given room to breathe...All fire and no air...The cast is stacked only with the finest actors, but their compatibility with this work is at times questionable...That said, it bursts with potential worthy of its title, and just a glimpse of it at this current stage of its development can still ... 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


"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

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


"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

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

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

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

Film Festival Traveler

"McNally, who has done his research, combines factual detail with imaginative flights of fancy. But 'Fire and Air' ends up an unsatisfying jumble of biography and fictional re-imaging...Cusati-Moyer and Johnson are lithe and athletic, their toned bodies speaking more eloquently than their acting...Hodge gives a broad but good-humored portrayal...Hodge does make Diaghilev relatable as more than a self-pitying genius, which gives 'Fire and Air' its intermittent vigor." 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


"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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


"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

Absorbing, Great acting, Great writing, Entertaining

See it if You want to experience a virtuoso performance of a well written play.

Don't see it if You don't. So be that way!

Great acting, Intelligent, Masterful, Great writing

See it if Obsession, love and art brilliantly brought to life by a master playwright, director cast.

Don't see it if If you prefer comedies.

Absorbing, Great acting, Romantic, Great staging

See it if You are fascinated with Nijinsky & Diaghilev and their relationship, enjoy wonderful acting and beautifully staged productions

Don't see it if You are uncomfortable with near-nudity, uninterested in the romantic drama of the Ballet Russe and a time when dance was being reinvented

Also As always at the Classic Stage Co., this production is wonderfully act... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Intelligent, Thought-provoking

See it if If you like gay themed character studies

Don't see it if You need action or a real plot

Also I like seeing different plays with the same theme to see how different... Read more Read less

Funny, Absorbing, Clever, Great acting, Entertaining

See it if See if you like fantastic acting in a historical play about an explosive time in art, music and dance.

Don't see it if You want to see a serious drama and don't like things that are very theatrical.

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

Ambitious, Intelligent, Thought-provoking, Entertaining

See it if You enjoy new material from great playwrights with great actors. Using your imagination to flesh out the locations as it uses minimal sets.

Don't see it if you don't want to have to think or want a great visual feast.

Also While no new play is perfect, this new play by Terrance McNally is def... Read more Read less

Funny, Delightful, Great acting, Entertaining

See it if Douglas Hodge is THE reason to see this sometimes farcical imagining of a love between Diaghilev and Nijinsky.

Don't see it if You are hoping for “The Turning Point” redux. It ain’t that.

Also A bit absurd at times. But quite enjoyable. Nice to see Marsha Mason. ... Read more Read less

Ambitious, Great acting, Disappointing

See it if you don't want to miss amazing name actors or the first look at a new McNally play directed by John Doyle.

Don't see it if you want to be captivated and mesmerized. The story falls short and doesn't quite grab you. We didn't feel invested in the characters.

Great acting, Disappointing, Great staging

See it if evocative Les Ballets Russes drama with a central destructive relationship in the dance world is of particular interest.

Don't see it if you want to avoid the John Doyle treatment. Or if you want to see the nadir of Nijinsky.

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, Disappointing, Slow

See it if you enjoy new plays, like Terrence McNally, enjoy plays about ballet.

Don't see it if you want a play that is completely thought through.

Also As much as I love Terrence McNally, I am not sure he made his point wi... Read more Read less

Clever, Great acting, Great staging

See it if you like the writing of Terrance McNally and you are interested in the history of ballet.

Don't see it if you expecting to really care about the core characters.

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.

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.

Ambitious, Intelligent, Slow

See it if You are interested in the Ballet Russes. Douglas Hodge was very good in his role as Diaghilev. The script however was uneven and disjointed.

Don't see it if You want a better understanding of the characters in the play and their relationship with each other.

Also The squeaking floor was a distraction!

Disappointing, Educational

See it if You know nothing about Sergei Diaghilev or the Ballets Russe and you'd like to know. Or, you could read his bio in Wikipedia.

Don't see it if You want scenery, a conventional plot, a proscenium stage, dancers dancing in a play about the ballet.

Also Mixed feeling on this one. Douglas Hodge is pedaling hard in his effus... Read more Read less

Dated, Entertaining

See it if You want to hear again the story of Diaghilev, Nijinsky and the creation of the Ballets Russes. Focus is on D. and the coterie around him.

Don't see it if You are not interested in ballet and its male prima donnas and their love affairs. Or the 20th c. transformations Diaghilev instituted.

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).

Absorbing, Great acting, Intelligent, Thought-provoking

See it if you are interested in ballet history or just enjoy good acting

Don't see it if you want a transcendent experience--it just misses the mark

Also It was great to see Marsha Mason and I'll see Marin Mazzie in anything... Read more Read less

Clever, Great acting, Intelligent, Entertaining

See it if are interested in one of the towering figures of Ballet and his romantic life; excellent performances, especially from Douglas Hodge

Don't see it if Are homophobic, not a fan of history or ballet

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

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

Intelligent, Romantic, Indulgent, Disappointing, Slow

See it if You are fascinated by the Ballet Russes and its origins, and interested in the relationship between Diaghilev and dancer Vaslav Nijinsky.

Don't see it if You are expecting dance... you don't like long monologues and rants... you have no interest in the biographical details of Diaghilev.

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

Cast & Creatives (13)