The first of these was Oscar Wilde's Salome, which came late in the summer of 2000. Featuring only one member of the original Quicksilver ensemble, Wylie Herman, the show was directed by Stuart Bousel and boasted one of the most elaborate sets and costume combos ever -- largely due to the efforts of visual artist Jessica Lansdon. Set on the terrace of an ancient Babylonian palace, the entire audience was canopied under tree branches decked in silver leaves, while the stage lights were filtered through an art deco moon. The terrace itself was constructed of yards of scarlet, gold, pink, purple and blue fabric hung and woven into tents and passageways through which the characters drifted spouting Wilde's convoluted poetry. Costumes crossed the spectrum, from orange to navy blue and blood red, with almost no white. Ultimately, however, the production itself lacked vigor and, for Wilde, was astonishingly conventional. Despite solid performances from the cast, it simply lacked any real risk taking. And for a play born in heated passion and jealousy, that didn't make the grade.
It did, however, pave the way for the follow up production, Edward II. Directed and adapted (from the Christopher Marlowe) by Stuart Bousel, the show ran a sleek 90 minutes without intermission, and featured the first real foray into the romantic surrealism that would become the company's trademark. Lit by Josh Galyen, the play was dark, filled with shadows and highlights, strobes and brilliant, colorful spots through which the cast would move, often clothed in stylish black and white formal wear, with colors used sparingly to represent allegiances or stand out characters. Music played a very heavy role, with a soundtrack of British rock music and American underground tracks used to underscore scenes and create alternate texts to the action. The real stars of the show, however, were the performers. Featuring Quicksilver regulars Dana Faris, Joshua Galyen and Brian McGrath, it was also the first time Stuart would make use of James Driscoll-MacEachron, Joshua Hanna and July Smith, all of whom would go on to be core members of the Horror Unspeakable team. A remarkably symbiotic group of people, the show played for only three nights but left a legacy of passionate, committed performances and electrifying risk taking -- a year after it's brief appearance, it was still getting mentioned in reviews. General consensus on the unflinching but tasteful love scenes was also pretty consistent: Jim and Matt Bailey had pretty hot make-out scenes, for two straight boys.
Having found its groove, Horror Unspeakable pushed ahead, with two productions in the summer of 2001, both revivals of Stuart Bousel plays- Vincent of Gilgamesh and The Exiled. Previously done at Reed College without a set or lighting and minimal props and costumes, Vincent was produced in the Cabaret with canopies of multi-colored fabric jungles (the remnants of Salome's sets sliced and re-assembled) as the backdrop. Gold and sky blue islands of furniture were highlighted in the darkness by Tonja Goetz's superbe lighting and the show also marked the first time sound designer Lisa Fowle stepped in to completely build and run a show's soundscape. Audiences were small on the first weekend but built up throughout, especially after an excellent review in the Arizona Daily Star (despite the fact that critic Kathy Allen came on the one weak night of the show). Ms. Allen went on to champion the play for the duration of its run, in particular praising the poetry of the script, the daringness of the ideas presented, and the performances of Jim MacEachron and July Smith. The last two nights of the production were sold out (a remarkable feat for Tucson in June) and that winter it was listed in the Star as one of the five best dramatic productions of 2001- the only independent theater production on the list. But perhaps most remarkable was that the company got away with covering the entire inside of the theater with glow-stars, and didn't have to pay for damages- the week following closing night, the Cabaret had been scheduled for a new paint job.
The revival of The Exiled ultimately proved to be Horror Unspeakable's apex, with full houses and lines around the block for each of its performances, unapologetically rave reviews from The Arizona Daily Star, and heavy, positive promotion from the Tucson Weekly and KXCI radio. Featuring only two cast members from the original production, Anne Heintz and Brian McGrath returning to play different roles, the show was changed from a standard proscenium production into a theater in the round piece energetically acted out beneath a canopy of clothes lines dangling underwear, posters, photographs, condoms, beer bottles, socks, roach clips, costumes, diaries and virtually everything else one could find in the typical post-grad apartment. The sound booth was moved onstage so that Lisa could run the board as a character (DJ slut) and the show was often so crowded audience members would sit in the lighting booth with Stuart and Tonja. The show profited so much the actors and crew were all paid a healthy stipend, marking the second time in Horror Unspeakable Productions people were paid for their work (the first was Vincent, but the sum was nominal) and even the video of the production turned out okay (no small feat).
Autumn of 2001 saw two productions helmed by Anne Heintz: first, her modernist rendering of William Sheakespeare's Macbeth, featuring Stuart in the title role, and second, Mounted and Pinned, a small scale romantic tragicomedy by Sarah Hammond. Reuniting the summer's tech team of Tonja on lights and Lisa on sound, Macbeth had a slick, urban look composed of antique furnishings, gelled gobos and silhouettes, and gothic drapes. It boasted more fight choreography (by Tate Allen) than any show in Quicksilver or Horror Unspeakable history, as well as more candles, not to mention three tap-dancing witches dressed as Catholic school girls and the Jenga board game worked in as a plot point. The show opened on Halloween night to a mostly costumed audience and played four more performances, to general acclaim and excellent houses- marking the third and last time Horror Unspeakable was able to pay its actors. Mounted and Pinned didn't do quite as well at the box office but was very well received, a delicate and touching play about four residents of an apartment complex coming together over a storm and the art of pinning butterflies under glass. It ran in rep with Quicksilver's Le Cid, and is one of the few examples of the companies working in congress, and the only example of theatrical premiere by a non-Tucson based writer.
With Anne slated to begin graduate studies in Australia in autumn of 2002, and Stuart planning to move to San Francisco, Horror Unspeakble called it quits that summer, ending their tenure with a pair of shows by the founding parents. Anne Heintz wrote and directed Snapshot, modern relationship drama centering on the love affair between two married friends and the efforts by a disinterested third party looking to expose the illicit relationship for personal kicks. An interesting bit of trivia, the opening scene, in which one of the married couples is tying the knot, featured two dresses that later showed up at Anne's own real-life wedding in December of 2004, worn by former cast members Kendra Webb and Morgen Stevens Garmon. Stuart's play, The Attack of the Killer Space Zombies, was the first and only play in Horror Unspeakable's canon to open with a choreographed title sequence, and had many props painted gold or silver, including a backdrop of silver moons, planets and stars hanging on streamers, prom-style. Tonja returned one last time to design the lights (though for performances they were run by Anne) and Lisa helmed the sound again. The company's swan song was heralded by a mournful article in the Arizona Daily Star, penned by long-time champion Kathy Allen, and attendance was at bursting point from beginning to end. Following the curtain calls of the very final performance the company and crew received a standing ovation from the whole theater and were drawn back out of the dressing rooms for one more bow. Two months later, nearly everyone involved had a different zip code.