Friday, March 6, 2015

Must die? Really?

'Jeff Coons and Ben Dibble Must Die' is 20 minutes of theater-world in-joke delight, then a bit of a time-waster.

Must die? Really?

Who cares about actors Jeff Coon and Ben Dibble? Unless you regularly attend theater in Philadelphia, you probably don't, and you probably still won't after seeing this fun, frivolous Philly Fringe time-waster.

However, for an industry insider, the first 20 minutes will sing like pure comedy gold. Every overlooked actor and director in town alleges the parochial, borderline incestuous nature of the local biz; props go to this show's creators (Mike Doherty, Greg Nix, and Alex Bechtel) for calling out the region's larger theatre companies for repeatedly hiring Coon and Dibble for (too) many of the area's lead musical roles. Doherty and Nix, two younger performers passed over for these parts, decide to off their competition.

But the plot's strong start quickly devolves into a series of loosely connected skits, including a pantomimed training montage — funny in a South Park movie, a time-filler in this already stretched 75-minute show. Doherty's manic comic intensity elevates each scene, but for a new musical (CDs on sale!), the sum total of two full songs completely wastes Bechtel's massive musical talent.

Twenty-five years from now, it will take a bit more creativity for anyone to care enough to kill Doherty and Nix.  

-- Jim Rutter

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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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