The cast of Uptown Players' 'Fire and Air.' (Courtesy photos)

The cast of Uptown Players’ ‘Fire and Air.’ (Courtesy photos)

Uptown Players opted for a different venue to present the Terrence McNally regional premiere of Fire and Air. The play probably would have fared just as well at the Kalita Humphreys Theater, but the Sixth Floor Studio at the Wyly Theatre was adding an intimate touch to the show along with its simple but effective set. Directed by Cheryl Denson, the space let Fire and Air bloom even when McNally’s story seemed bumpy at times. 

The show centered on Sergei played to astonishing effect by Patrick Bynane. Rarely offstage, Bynane’s performance was colossal and filled with dramatic depth and humor. As the leader of the Ballet Russes, Bynane portrayed a man impressed by his own gravity and bluster but also beguiled and weakened by beautiful men. Most notably the famed dancer Vaslav Nijinsky played with an ethereal aura by Dominic Pecikconis. The actors’ chemistry worked best when they were at odds over their more tender and emotional moments. That push-pull worked in favor of the story. 

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Perhaps this was where the story didn’t always stick, though. The two actors were strong, but by all accounts, McNally’s Sergei is akin to Harvey Weinstein and yet McNally heralded him for his impresario reputation rather than admonished for his exploits and abuse. He’s also dying and McNally asks the audience to sympathize for the guy. We don’t get enough perspective from Nijinsky’s character which seemed to pave a forgivable path for Sergei. The play’s point-of-view is even more interesting in that it premiered in 2018. 

Lisa Fairchild was unrecognizable as Dunya, Sergei’s longtime nursemaid who injected the show with a bit of humor through her older and wiser one-liners, but also played the part with appropriate motherly appeal to the bratty Sergei. Marianne Galloway leaned way into Misia, one of Sergei’s patrons. Slightly overdoing her dialect with intent, Galloway mixed a brash, upper class sophistication with exaggerated speak that gave her character a strong distinction. Aaron Cash was brilliant as the lovelorn and sympathetic Dima who vies for Sergei’s affections. He balanced his fussy queen character with a tender loneliness that hit right in the gut. Despite the talent, McNally’s use of these characters felt unclear. They don’t serve as a Greek chorus or as Sergei’s conscience. They sort of just hover and gab around Sergei without pushing the story forward.

Uptown Players, Fire and Air, Terrence McNally, 2024Danny Vanegas’ second act appearance as the dancer Massine served as a Nijinksy proxy for Sergei. Vanegas began with earnest appeal as a dancer waiting to conquer the world and then vacillated between his role as Sergei’s lover and student. In a short time, Vanegas delivered strong layers of ambition, sexual energy and naivete. 

Denson’s pace of Fire and Air was a relaxed one giving the story a slow burn keeping the character studies front and center. Joshua Nguyen’s lighting served that feel but also brought its own dynamic and drama. The levels of lighting painted the stage like a canvas and against Donna Marquet’s gorgeous framed and mirrored set, the combination was lush and rich. The versatile set of furniture and props by Jane Quetin was clever and effective in its transitions from scene to scene.

Michael B. Moore’s makeup and wig design transformed the cast well into their characters — particularly Bynane, Fairchild and Galloway — all who disappeared underneath their looks and Suzi Cranford’s costuming. Her dressing of Pecikonis in dance costumes and bodysuits was sexy and sleek, but also, her cut of suits was divine on each male-presenting character. 

McNally crafted a completely thought-out play, but its perspective clouded the queer drama. Fire and Air had its captivating elements and an amazing cast, with its mesmerizing atmosphere in the different space that will hold attention to the play’s end for the audience to make up its mind. 

Fire and Air runs through Sunday.

–Rich Lopez