Matching fuzzy puppets alongside the bone-chilling terror of H.R. Giger's famous sci-fi creature of the "Alien" film franchise sounds at first glance like an exercise in irony gone wrong. Pairing them on the theater stage sounds positively foolhardy.
Tobin Atkison, artistic director of Meat & Potato Theatre, will have none of that. Along with wife Marynell Hinton, who co-wrote the script and lyrics to "Aliens (The Puppet Musical)," he's a true believer in the power of story.
This story Ellen Ripley's hero's journey to slay slimy space creatures and fulfill maternal instincts protecting an orphaned girl is powerful enough to overpower audience objections to mixing it all up with a full cast of puppets, a few water guns and a romping soundtrack of eight original songs. That said, while the sheer novelty of the enterprise may be enough to draw an audience through curiosity alone, he wants the production to speak for itself by the final curtain.
"The goal is always to knock it out of the park," Atkinson said. "But even if we miss, we wanted to swing hard. No one does sci-fi onstage. That seemed good enough reason to do it in the first place."
And do it in a way surely no one has ever seen "Aliens" done before. The film plot remains from the 1986 movie that scored as director James Cameron's first big-screen hit. Fresh from the horrific slaughter of her fellow crew members aboard the space freighter Nostromo, Ripley and a squadron of Colonial Mariners return to the planet of the creature's origin at the behest of the evil Weyland-Yutani Corp. Also aboard is Carter Burke, the corporate lackey determined to bring a specimen back to Earth for the good of the bottom line.
Meat & Potato's version tweaks the lineup, as you might expect, with characters such as Snake Plissken and Optimus Prime and puppets akin to Ernie and Bert. Alf and Lady Gaga incarnations also make an appearance. As for the alien itself, you'll know the queen mother has arrived when strains of opera singing hit the air.
The only person appearing in the flesh is Ripley, played by Rebecca Marcotte.
"Tobin and Marynell asked me if I'd act in it and I said, 'Are you kidding? Of course!' There's not an actress out there who doesn't wish she could play Ripley," Marcotte said. "They hadn't even written it yet, and I was in."
Marcotte said she saw "Aliens" a grand total of 15 times when she was a teenager and the movie first hit her neighborhood cinema. She also saw the original 1979 film, "Alien" directed by Ridley Scott, enough times to seal Sigourney Weaver forever in her soul as the iconic representation of Ripley's fierce spirit. "I'm a recovering nerd that way," she said.
Irony can't help but be an operating force in a play such as this, she said, but the inherent fun of Meat & Potato's production is playing with such an unstable mix that it must be done right. Otherwise, like a precision bomb that cannot be overly toyed with, it goes off in everyone's face.
"You can't play the irony, of course," Marcotte said. "Everyone knows that these are puppets, but we're up there playing it for all it's worth."
'Aliens (The Puppet Musical)'
When • May 24-June 10. Thursday-Saturdays, 8 p.m., with Sunday matinees 2 p.m.
Where • Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center's Studio Theatre, 138 W. Broadway, Salt Lake City
Info • $20, with student and senior discounts; at 801-355-2787 or http://www.arttix.org; recommended for ages 17 and up.