LET ME DIE (Joseph Keckler): 2019 Fringe review

Part of a series of dilettante at large reviews by theater critic Toby Zinman.


Spoilers puts it mildly: She dies. He dies. They die.

Everybody dies in Joseph Keckler’s witty and often splendid collage of mortality culled and quoted from many many operas. His gorgeous bass baritone and surprising counter tenor allows him to sing a duet with himself, while his talking persona ranges from stand-up comic with a handheld mic to profound philosopher, ranging from from the existential to the metaphysical.

Similarly contradictory, his costume suggests the dour antique —a black many-buttoned tunic, think Hamlet—and the cool contemporary—black cowboy boots, skinny black jeans. He is, in a word, adorable.

After providing us with a vocally illustrated lecture on death scenes, Keckler announces, “But enough talk”; he then turns his lectern over, revealing a satin-lined casket, and, Dracula-like, settles into it for the show’s second act. This allows three fine singers (Augustine Mercante, Natalie Levin, Veronica Chapman Smith), accompanied by a violinist (Lavinia Pavlish) and a pianist (William Kim) to take over, as they perform bits of operas ranging from Puccini to Satie. The chilling and silent finale is performed to great effect by a dancer (Saori Tsukada).

Despite the apparent inclination to the morbid, Keckler tells us—shows us— that of all the uses for human breath, “singing is the best.”

[FringeArts, 140 N. Columbus Boulevard] September 21–28, 2019; operaphila.orgfringearts.com/event/let-me-die

Part of the 2019 Fringe Festival and Opera Philadelphia’s Festival O19

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About the author

Toby Zinman

Toby Zinman is a recently retired professor of English at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She was a Fulbright professor at Tel Aviv University and a visiting professor in China. She publishes widely and lectures internationally on American drama. Her fifth book, Replay: Classic Modern Drama Reimagined, was published by Methuen, and she published the essay, "Visions of Tragedy in Contemporary American Drama," in 2017. Zinman is also the chief theater critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. She was named by American Theatre magazine as, “one of the 12 most influential critics in America.” Her travel writing has taken her all over the world, from dogsledding in the Yukon to hiking across England.