Today is an auspicious day for both occultists and actors, it being the deathday of the playwright Maxime Heinbrow, the mother of Buentoilliçan literature and drama. Heinbrow plays are an essential part of the curriculum in the City’s schools, and there are two playhouses named after her: The Heinbrow Circle and The New Municipal Heinbrow Theatre. Along with these stalwart institutions, The People’s Stage is another playhouse that is sure to have at least one Heinbrow play showing at any given point. There are far too many of these plays to list here (to say that she was prolific is a scandalous understatement), but three of the most popular are The History of the Knight, The Bashful Poisoner and Einar and Glicelli. However, for all true lovers of this enigmatic playwright there can be no rival to The Darkening Sun.
Today thousands will gather in theatres across the City, even those that usually specialise in modern works such as Aggressive Annie’s Hall of Dramatic Experiences, all to watch a rendition of The Darkening Sun. The competition is fierce, with the Heinbrow playhouses gathering the largest audiences, and putting on three or four performances each across the day. Whilst there have been some attempts to re-interpret the acclaimed play, these have been limited partly because of the respect that the original text garners through its quality and power, but also because it cannot be fully read or rehearsed on any day but today. Ask anybody in the business of stagecraft (or occultism) why and they will tell you the same thing: The Darkening Sun is a cursed play.
Throughout her life, Heinbrow carried the script of The Darkening Sun with her, constantly making small changes to it until her death. References to it crop up occasionally in her letters to her lifelong friend and sometimes lover Catherine Asquin, often cryptic or obfuscatory in nature; ‘the Sun eludes me still,’ she wrote on several occasions, or ‘I have made some progress on that which lies closest to my heart.’ It seems that Heinbrow was never truly happy with the work, the first and last play that she ever wrote. On her deathbed she clung to the papers, worn and thin with age, with and jealous passion. By this point she had a large group of admirers, eager to share in her fame and wealth, hoping that she would hand this last unknown work onto them in her will. She tried to destroy it once, to burn it in the fireplace, but she could not bring herself to do it. ‘It’s not finished,’ she said, ‘nobody can read it after I die. Nobody. Else they shall have my ghost to contend with.’
If you believe the stories, it seems that Heinbrow followed up on that threat after the play inevitably made its way to the stage three years after her death. The first playhouse to show The Darkening Sun was The Municipal Heinbrow Theatre, and bad omens plagued rehearsals from the beginning. Three crew members were killed in an accident involving the stage machinery on the first rehearsal, and the actors were replaced frequently after suffering debilitating nervous fits. Various essential props went missing or were destroyed in accidents. The costume designer’s measurements were invariably awry, despite being checked by several people, so that eventually the play was performed without any costumes at all. Despite all this, the obvious quality of the play drove the director on, who, according to a popular story about that first doomed enterprise, was often heard to say, ‘I would kill a hundred stage hands if it meant I could touch one heart with the beauty of this play!’ On the opening night the playhouse burned down, killing seventy five people.
Whilst other attempted stagings and readings of The Darkening Sun have been less dramatically catastrophic, superstition soon spread through the world of drama, and even if a theatre wanted to show the play they could find no willing actors. Rumours were rife in the papers of the times that various suicide pacts had been enacted by reading the play aloud from beginning to end in one sitting. Eventually The Heinbrow Circle consulted with The Union of Occultists and Ghost Theoreticians on a possible solution to the supposed supernatural crisis. After much deliberation, divining and a number of seances, the Union decided that the only solution was to perform the play only on Heinbrow’s death day, when her spirit would be distracted by negotiating its continued existence on the mortal plane, and therefore could not cause mischief. Thus today became a municipal festival overnight.
Obviously it is difficult to put on a show in a day without any rehearsals or readings beforehand, so alternative methods of rehearsal have to be reached. All scripts of the play published after the Union consultation are set out in randomised chunks to avoid recognition from Heinbrow’s spirit, and actors are presented with the uniquely difficult task of re-joining these tiny segments into a meaningful whole on the day. Some actors prefer to perform larger chunks backwards, as they find them easier to reassemble this way. Whilst it seems like a lot of effort to go to, the play is thought to be of such tragic poignance that it is considered a worthy toll to pay. An actor knows they have truly made it when they are cast a leading role in The Darkening Sun.
In the past a few folk have tried to disprove the curse, which they invariably referred to as ‘superstitious nonsense,’ by reading it in order in public. However, because of the risk associated, almost nobody attended these readings and as a result they were not believed. Even today, at a time of unparalleled scientific prominence, the contested existence of the curse is one of the most divisive subjects in Buentoilliçan culture, especially after a group of ‘anti-superstition activists’ were murdered mid-performance of the play by a man who claimed to have been ‘possessed by the ghost of Heinbrow.’
Other festivals happening today:
- Listen To Your Grandmother: A Day of Good Advice
- Tim Gormant’s Bugle Extravaganza
- The Snuffing of the Wytchlight