BWW Review: #NijinskyToo Would Be The Hashtag For Terrence McNally's FIRE AND AIR

In the second act of Terrence McNally's fact-based drama, Fire and Air, the legendary dance impresario Sergei Diaghilev privately examines the technique of a young dancer he may consider as a successor to his protegee-turned-international star, Vaslav Nijinsky.

BWW Review:  #NijinskyToo Would Be The Hashtag For Terrence McNally's FIRE AND AIR
Douglass Hodge and
James Cusati-Moyer
(Photo: Joan Marcus)

The young man is Leonide Massine, who would eventually succeed Nijinsky, both onstage and off. Exuding a cool sense of what is expected of him when instructed to remove his shirt, he does so in a manner that proudly displays his beautiful physique to the man who can make or break his career.

But after, as instructed, revealing his bare feet, he's not quite sure what to make of the fact that the founder of the Ballets Russes is lying on the floor and not just caressing his foot, but holding it against the crotch of his pants.

The moment steps out of reality as Nijinsky appears, explaining how, before Diaghilev fired him for getting married, he dutifully put up with a life of being worshipped as a god by a man who would supply him with stages to create the greatest dance masterpieces the world has seen for the privilege of falling asleep every night with his arms wrapped around his muscular body.

In a time when powerful men of the arts are being accused by a multitude of survivors of taking advantage of their high positions with acts of sexual misconduct, extending as far as rape, the new offering at Classic Stage Company minimally explores such a relationship between employer and fledgling artist from the early years of the last century.

Minimally, because McNally's drama never seems to sustain a solid grasp on this or on any other subject. The play's lackadaisical storytelling is only emphasized by director/set designer John Doyle's choice to play the two acts on a space that's empty, save for a few chairs and a large mirror hanging above.

This is especially sad because CSC has gathered such a stellar cast. Douglas Hodge looks dapper and nicely plays the overdone-elegance of the tempestuous Diaghilev, but there's little danger apparent beneath the passionate surface.

BWW Review:  #NijinskyToo Would Be The Hashtag For Terrence McNally's FIRE AND AIR
Marsha Mason, John Glover, Douglas Hodge,
Marin Mazzie (Photo: Joan Marcus)

There are amusing moments, such as when Diaghilev lashes out at the unimpressed premiere audience of "The Rite of Spring" ("I shall be brief. You are idiots.") and when he ridicules the notion that anyone would be interested in buying a filmmaker's bootleg of one of his productions. ("Everything the Ballets Russes has created is of the moment.")

An impressive trio of supporting players is given little of interest to do. Marin Mazzie plays his dear friend and dependable patron, John Glover plays Diaghilev's haughty cousin who is also an ex-lover and Marsha Mason is the ever-nurturing servant, who often has to tend to her employer's boils.

James Cusati-Moyer (Nijinsky) and Jay Armstrong Johnson (Massine) are both excellent, each portraying the same kind of focused aloofness that guards against any emotional damage as a result of their identical situations. Each is seen in states of near-nudity, emphasizing their self-awareness that success in their careers lies not just in their artistry, but in a power their bodies have to thrill both hundreds at a time and just one at a time.

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From This Author Michael Dale

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