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Review: An Impresario of ‘Fire and Air’ (if He Does Say So Himself)

Mr. Hodge, a Tony winner for the 2010 revival of “La Cage Aux Folles,” blusters, whines and suffers splendidly, coloring within the persona the entire strategy to the outlines, and a bit of past. He embodies no longer best the poisonous identity of a perpetual kid — in his 40s, Diaghilev continues to be attended by way of his adolescence nurse — but additionally the barbarian glint of a sociopath and the vulgarity of a showman. He schmoozes his patron, Misia Sert, whilst in trade breaths insulting her. He soliloquizes his personal greatness. (The play’s name is a self-description.) He is visionary and hugely entertaining; he even hoofs, a long way too in short, an exciting, thumping czardas.

Photo

Mr. Cusati-Moyer and Mr. Hodge as ingenious and romantic companions in “Fire and Air.”

Credit
Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

But if Diaghilev is dramatic, he doesn’t a lot lend himself to drama. The very best pal (John Glover), the consumer (Marin Mazzie) and the nurse (Marsha Mason) don't seem to be antagonists or foils however enablers; Mr. McNally doesn’t give them any structural serve as. The very best pal tuts. The patron delivers pep talks and canned historic morsels. (“Vaslav’s pouting because neither of his ballets is on the tour while six of Fokine’s are.”) The nurse knits.

Nijinsky has extra to do however continues to be a cipher, in spite of Mr. Cusati-Moyer’s feral power. His sexual courting with Diaghilev, which frames the primary act, is sort of completely one-sided, and no longer simply since the stunning guy in his early 20s does no longer deeply want the person with the thickening center, the white streak in his dyed black hair (the Russians name him “Chinchilla”) and the boils everywhere his chest. The play does no longer appear to thoughts this abusive liaison, seeing it as simply every other excusable instance of Diaghilev’s choice to foster greatness.

What’s no longer excusable is that the connection is one-sided dramatically. Nijinsky is a dancer, no longer a wit, and since we don’t see him dance we revel in his scenes with Diaghilev as hopelessly unequal. When the younger guy broadcasts dully that the faun should be bare, Diaghilev will get the snappy comeback: “God in His infinite wisdom created tights and a dance belt.”

That line, and others, jogged my memory of how droll Mr. McNally will also be, even in darkish performs like “Love! Valour! Compassion!” and “The Lisbon Traviata.” Also how withering. In “Master Class,” every other meditation at the prerogatives of artwork, he has Maria Callas tear a trio of voice scholars to shreds — however they a minimum of get to battle again with voices stuffed with the unanswerable aura of formative years.

I assume Diaghilev’s hopeless hobby for Nijinsky is supposed to be a in a similar fashion equalizing power in “Fire and Air”: It weakens and humanizes the extra tough determine. And Mr. Doyle does make some memorable level photos out of it, on a gleaming, gilded set of his personal design. In the play’s very best scene, the manufacturer strips the dancer of his gown throughout the intermission after the “Faun” premiere and then clothes him for the following piece, Fokine’s “Spectre de la Rose,” as though he had been placing a kid in pajamas. (“Right leg!”) Diaghilev then proceeds to do with the discarded tights what the faun did with the headscarf.

But after Nijinsky marries one of the corporate’s ballerinas on the finish of the primary act, Diaghilev is going haywire and so does the play. The 2d act tries to concentrate on efforts to groom Léonide Massine (Jay Armstrong Johnson) as a Nijinsky alternative, in each the Ballets Russes and mattress. Unfortunately, Massine is even more youthful and, as scripted, extra peripheral. Starved of dramatic propulsion, the play devolves right into a symposium on aesthetics, a spectral memorial carrier and a gloss on “Death in Venice.”

There would possibly but be a full of life and transferring paintings to be mined from Mr. McNally’s analysis and sympathy for Diaghilev. It would want extra characters in reality doing issues, even though, as in Richard Nelson’s engrossing “Nikolai and the Others,” a play additionally targeted at the advent of artwork, if that's the case Balanchine’s.

But with the exception of a couple of golden moments, “Fire and Air” is inert. It has best in part emerged into existence, like a statue nonetheless half-stuck within the marble, or a faun eternally frozen in position.

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