Last night was the premiere of Woman of Wrath. There has been excitement for this one ever since the announcement. Written by Hadis Nubi’i, Woman of Wrath markets itself as a swashbuckling romance musical and by that alone you may be wondering at the hype. Then you read “music by Oblithion Darkflame,” and suddenly everything makes sense.
I consider myself to be uniquely qualified to critique Oblithion as I have been following his work since almost the beginning. (Yes, being an elf is awesome and no, I don’t feel guilty about my immortality.)
So, is it better than the original production of Bloody Poppies, Bloody Grave? Of course not. I’m beginning to doubt anything of that splendor will come again in my life. Only Dark Morning reaches that kind of emotional reaction, and that’s partially due to how personal and intrusive it felt to witness. Never again, my friends. That’s one of those things you can only bear to watch once.
But enough reminiscing, let’s talk about what happened last night.
Woman of Wrath is about a barbarian woman (Carmina Brann) following, facing off or falling for a dishonest merchant (Patic Stone) and a tyrannical wizard (Kyster Lin).
The script was passable, not poor by any means, but noticeably lacking the punch of Moonset or the guts of Little Girl in Sydon. It’s hard to really fault Mr. Nubi’i for this as his main failing is having to follow in the shadow of Tabaxys.
I will not intrude myself on foreign politics, especially dragon politics, but I will always lament the execution of Tabaxys Darkcinder as a crime against our genre and his work and wit are still sorely missed.
More relevant to this, Tabaxys was completely and utterly in tune with Oblithion. Music and story were always on the same page in theme, tone, and characterization.
Here I’m not even sure Nubi’i and Oblithion talked to each other.
All the songs featuring the wizard Chal gave a nuanced interpretation that is entirely absent in Lin’s bombastic performance outside the musical numbers.
Since we’re on the subject, let’s talk about performance.
Patic Stone was of course, phenomenal. I am starting to become convinced he could play a banana and somehow make it mesmerizing. The actual script does not handle his arc tactfully, but boy does he straddle the line between descent and redemption beautifully. The rumored line, “you’ve axed my soul to bits, and I bid you to mend your mess” is indeed in this and Stone manages, through acting witchcraft, to make it sound only okay, instead of awful.
Though I have said that Lin’s wizard sometimes lacks depth, I will also say that it is clear that he is having the time of his life every second he is on stage and that infectious enthusiasm is a joy to watch whether he sings of more complicated feelings or plays up a dastardly villain.
By contrast, Carmina Brann as leading lady is underwhelming. She gets the job done, but she so blatantly lacks the energy of Lin and the intensity of Stone that I feel like it brings down the rest of the acting. She has chemistry with her leading men, and I will never fault her singing, but I was disappointed.
Her dancing background, however, came in handy for the fight scenes, and her natural grace shows every time. The fight scenes are not Rings of Iron level or anything, but they are fun and competently choreographed, which is to be expected. Laris Reed is still on the top of his game, and it was wise to bring him back for this one’s conflicts, especially since its marketing hinged on it.
The sets and props were well crafted, though the Avynar slave’s wings were jarringly fake. Why they couldn’t hire an actual Avynar actress is beyond me, especially since I know Oblithion has a ton of Avynar friends in the industry. Again, Mr. Nubi’i, did you two speak to each other at all?
But many of you reading this, will not be interested in any of this. The story could be nonsensical and the sets second-rate for all you care. The only reason you’re planning to go is to hear our friendly Dragonlord’s music.
So, is it any good?
Of course it bloody is; it’s Oblithion Darkflame. He could write a movement half asleep, and I’d probably still praise it. (Since I know from my review of Charity, Clarity, Clay that you read my reviews, hi Oblithion. I know well you will take that statement as a challenge and so, challenge formally issued, I guess. Side note, can you write something with Patic Stone as a banana? I’ve realized while writing this that I would really like to see that.)
Lyrically, the songs are good, better than most you’ll ever hear. They are filled to the brim with Oblithion’s trademark biting snark, borderline crass humor, and blunt frankness about the evil of the soul. I noted the obligatory jab at Zenarious of Nightfell. Sometimes, I think half the reason he still writes these musicals is to mock his former mentor publicly. The last work of his that didn’t have a tongue in cheek joke at his expense was Cycle In Justice, and it may very well be that it did and it just went over my head like in Flap, Flap. Fly. (Yes, someone kindly explained the raven feather metaphor. I know what it means now.)
But despite all the lyrical nuance and charm and fun, I still felt a little disappointed.
It’s not his fault. We have the privilege and misfortune of remembering his songs back when Lady Darkflame was writing most of the lyrics, and he, though excellent, lacks a bit of the hard, uncompromising precision she was famous for.
Occasionally, there will be a line that has her distinct flair written all over it, and you will abruptly be reminded that Oblithion was her soulsworn and a bit of her spirit still lingers in his style, but on the whole, you just feel her loss. Yet again, I must mourn a light, that once lost, left the whole music scene a dimmer place. Oblithion had giant, literally dragon-sized feet to fill, and he is a dwarf, truly and figuratively in the same breath.
Not so in his music, which is as unrivaled as ever. He hasn’t worked with the Green Glory Orchestra since Imperial Paranoia, but you very quickly remember why that opera was so good. They match his intensity well, and I cannot fault their interpretation of his work. Special shout out to the songs “Doom to the Wizard” and “Shackles and Greed” for bass chanting and unique chimes respectively.
Now there is a rumor going around that Oblithion not only conducts in this but actually performs as well.
I am delighted to say both are true. He plays the cello in the middle of one of Stone’s solos and drums during two of the fight scenes. For those who saw the original production of Dark Morning like I did, I am pleased to report that it will not trigger traumatic memories of that drumming sequence. I was worried it would, but it was lighthearted enough to not resemble that half-mad performance too much.
Did he go on stage? No, he stayed in the pit.
How do I know he played then? Son, you know the difference betweenOblithion playing his music and someone else playing his music. (No offense to the Green Glory Orchestra; they were magnificent, but still.)
Extra tip, if you are trying to catch a glimpse of him in the pit, he’s the dwarf that plays like he’s possessed by his soulsworn, again.
The cello wailed, and drums shouted, and I forgot myself as I so often do when he plays. He has a singular talent of impressing a character’s emotions and perspectives directly into you. Telepathy, talent, it doesn’t matter. It is almost religious.
Since I have been doing this for so long, I am often asked what’s the difference between the way he plays now and the way he played while Lady Darkflame still lived. Was it better?
It’s hard to judge the quality of something so different.
The best way to describe it, I think, is it’s the difference between a once in a millennium prodigy trying to outdo himself in every performance to impress his lover to a once in a millennium prodigy playing to honor and to grieve the lover who loved his music so.
One is transcendently technical: the other technically transcendent. There is something raw in his work that was not there before but is now, and is here to stay. I could feel it in Dark Morning, and I could feel it tonight when he picked up the cello bow. It was powerful and dangerous and made even the whimpering child in the back go still and dumb. The orchestra could not keep up with it and eventually fell silent like everyone else. It may have been written in the music for them to do so. Oblithion knows very well his own capabilities after all, but I don’t think he cares.
Which brings us to the biggest difference between the dwarf soullinked with a dragon lady and the dwarf who is left to mourn her. Before, he was playing for his audience. He would smile and wink at pretty girls as he played. Now, his gaze is sightless. He’s looking into himself, playing for himself, and we just have the privilege of listening in. It is frighteningly intimate in a way no other man can achieve.
So, should you see Woman of Wrath?
Yes, of course. It’s a fun, competently told action story with the best music you are ever going to hear this summer. But if you are like me, you may be left pained by the harsh reminder of what once was.
The script can’t match its music, and ironically enough, the same goes for the musician’s own lyrics.
What is left is a strange lesson in the dissonance created when you are too good at what you do.
(Taken from the #72001 issue of the Tenadar Times)