THE HANGOVER REPORT – Terrence McNally’s FIRE AND AIR investigates the turbulent circumstances of creating art

Douglas Hodge (front), John Glover, and Marin Mazzie in Terrence McNally's "Fire and Air" at Classic Stage Company.

Douglas Hodge (front), John Glover, and Marin Mazzie in Terrence McNally’s “Fire and Air” at Classic Stage Company.

Last night, I attended a performance of Classic Stage Company’s production of the highly-anticipated Fire and Air by celebrated playwright Terrence McNally. The play chronicles the turbulent, often times painful, circumstances of the creation of art, as personified by Sergei Diaghilev, the legendary ballet impresario responsible for masterminding the game-changing Ballet Russes. When it comes to theater, this is familiar territory. Certainly, Stephen Sondheim’s gorgeous Sunday in the Park with George (“art isn’t easy”!) contemplated the very same topic – to Pulitzer Prize-winning effect and spawning two acclaimed Broadway revivals since premiering in 1984. Even McNally himself has dabbled in this turf with his opera trilogy, comprised of The Lisbon Traviata, the Tony-winning Master Class, and The Golden Age.

Of McNally’s plays, Fire and Air falls somewhere in the middle of the pack – for interesting reasons. As a ballet fan, there was much to revel in. The Ballet Russes, assembled by Diaghilev in Paris during the turn of the twentieth century from Russian dance-making expatriates and a myriad of the most exciting talents across the fields of the visual arts (Picasso, Dali, Matisse) and music (Debussy, Stravinsky). The dance geek in me relished the chance to see how landmark pieces of dance and music (and design) like “The Afternoon of a Faun” and “The Rite of Spring” came into being. It was also fascinating to explore Diaghilev’s stormy relationship with the iconic dancer Vaslav Nijinsky, as imagined by McNally. Fire and Air is clearly the work of a like-minded dance and arts aficionado. However, for audience members not as well-versed in dance and dance history, the play may seem a bit problematic. Stepping back and examining the play objectively, it can be argued that the work is both plodding and lightweight. These contradictory traits seem at odds with the historic importance and built-in drama of the documented events it theatricalizes. However, these very characteristics, oddly, are what compel me to Fire and Air, as if to suggest that the creation of art and the encountering of beauty are the byproducts of an ultimately haphazard, careless pursuit.

The production is directed by Classic Stage Company artistic director John Doyle in his trademark minimalist, seamless style. Scenes bleed into one another with unexpected, almost jarring, fluidity (not something I associate with McNally plays). At times, this approach mutes the impact of the proceedings, but it also highlights the idea that we are all speeding quizzically towards some unknown destination. Fire and Air is led by an enticing trio of accomplished actors – Tony-winner Douglas Hodge as Diaghilev, Marin Mazzie as arts patron Misia Sert, and John Glover as Diaghilev devotee and former lover Dima. Collectively, their performances, particularly Mr. Hodg’es boisterous turn, give the weight to McNally’s script. As the two beautiful, young objects of the impresario’s romantic and lustful obsession, Nijinsky and Massine, James Cusati-Moyer and Jay Armstrong Johnson, respectively, fit the bill perfectly.



Off-Broadway, Play
Classic Stage Company
2 hours (with one intermission)
Through March 2

Categories: Off-Broadway, Theater

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