In Terrence McNally new play Fire and Air, Sergei Diaghilev (an unrecognizable Douglas Hodges), the impresario of Ballets Russes, has just taken seventeen year old Vaslav Nijinksy (a very cut James Cusati-Moyer) from thirty-year-old Prince Pavel Lvov, who was ready to move on. At fourteen Nijinksy mother sold him to the prince and discouraged his heterosexual interests. In those days in Russia, as in Western Europe, there was a heavy sexual trade in ballet dancers. Some dancers actually accepted fees from interested ballet patrons for making introductions. Interesting, considering the #MeToo movement and all the accusations from actors and actress who have used sex throughout time to get what they want. However Fire and Air wants us to see this as a love story and goes out of its way, to show the two in sexual embraces.
Diaghilev is a very unlikeable, an egotistical, monster whose passions brought to light Debussy, Stravinsky, Strauss, Picasso, Matisse, Coco Chanel, George Balanchine and changed the face of ballet. Nijinksy to this day is considered one of the greatest dancers to have ever lived.
Diaghilev was cruel, a hypochondriac afraid of water and death, who was afflicted with a severe case of boils. As we know, every young man wants that as his lover. When he is finally allowed some room off his leash, Nijinksy goes and marries a woman. Diaghilev takes it out by firing him, as no married men were allowed in the company.
Fire and Air, has cast some of the best actors in New York. Marsha Mason plays his servant Dunya, who is constantly abused by his lovers. Marin Mazzie as Misia, is his oldest and dearest friend and his patron. When Diaghilev has spent too much, it is Misia’s husbands money, that bails him out. John Glover is Dmitry, his older cousin, mentor, and ex-lover who still holds a torch for him, but Diaghilev only wants younger lovers. Dmitry ends up taking over the company’s finances, since Diaghilev is a ruble away from bankruptcy.
Diaghilev, suffocates, but drives Nijinsky to be the best. We see the beginning and the final opening performance of The Afternoon of a Faun, which is when Nijinsky started to choreograph. We hear about The Rite of Spring composed by Stravinsky, but we see little dancing and maybe that could of helped this play, that holds little interest except for the sex scenes and the all but nakedness of Nijinsky and his successor, Leonide Massine (again an unrecognizable and under used Jay Armstrong Johnson).
John 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?
The last scene is Nijinksy dressed as the fawn once more, with Diaghilev reaching for him passionately. The romantic lighting by Jane Cox is beautiful, but in this climate there was something so ominous about it. I have a feeling Nijinksy would have been wearing a #MeToo pin or maybe not as he wanted a career as a dancer and a choreographer. Which makes me ask, when and where are the lines drawn?
Fire and Air: Classic Stage Company, 136 E 13th St., through February 25th