Southern Time | City | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST

It is to cry. Or have a muffin. Writer/actor/composer/musician Tim Bartsch shoots the pooch, I fear, with Southern Time, his "spectacular two-person original rock opera". Rock opera squats lumpenly as an odd musical theatre hybrid that, let's face it, "jumped the shark" at conception. Pete Townsend's Tommy came close to making rock opera work. And I suppose, John Cameron Mitchell's Hedwig and the Angry Inch skirts nearby to some success too. Here's where the crux of the form's problem lies. Opera is a sung play. Rock excels as two-minutes of kickass rhythm and simplistic sentiments. Period. As either, neither works. Rail thin, Tim Bartsch (who bears an unsettling resemblance to cadaverous bluesman, Johnny Winter) and pint-sized dynamo, the irrepressibly game Shazia Islam, batted a crowd of character parts back and forth in tight stage quarters; flapping and prancing about like competitve handball players. Many times the duo shared the same character simultaneously. Bothersome in that the effect, with blurred or stepped on line-readings, was like having a ventriloquist, lips moving, participating in a speaking death match with the dummy. Southern Time's storyline backtracks over the time a sexually naive young cello student contracts HIV, the "BIG SCARY VIRUS" from his much older (family trusted) life mentor and cello professor who, selfishly, fails to inform his student of his compromised health status. A transcendent skew, necessary to lift this oft-told tale into riveting drama, is sorely missing. Instead we, the audience, are "treated" to seemingly endless reams of one-tone exposition bereft of dramatic peaks and valleys. Much, from the recited sounds of it, I suspect, culled from NGO HIV studies. Too bad. There happened to be one outstanding scene that revealed what Southern Time might have been had Bartsch recognized, focused on and exploited its pregnant Play Potential. It's a domestic moment. Bartsch plays his cello, quite emotively, while around him swirls the charged feelings of his parents (Islam playing both). furious over their and their son's betrayal at the hands of the reckless cello professor. Bartsch, as the student, convincingly portrays an overwhelming sense of despair, puzzlement and shame. Moments like this, in the hands of a playwright such as Tony Kushner, elevate overly familiar material into something profound and soul touching as in Kushner's Angels in America. As for Southern Time's musical numbers, they suffered from being too much alike; soapy power ballads clogged with clunky, rolled chords alternating ad nauseum between their major and minor settings. A limited musical palette can carry the day or the show when applied with wit and skill. Refer to Tom Waits' CD collection of songs he composed for the provovative Robert Wilson directed play, The Black Rider. And have a muffin.

Showtimes at the Khyber 2: Thurs Sept 4 at 9:45; Fri Sept 5 at 8:30; Sat Sept 6 at 8:45 and Sun Sept 7 at 2:00 Mature Audiences Only 90 minutes $10:00

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