“In many ways [the puppets] open up opportunities to do more. If we had done this play with non-puppets, it wouldn’t have worked. It would have been too over the top,” said Ryan Cassavaugh, writer of “The Terrible Thing from Somewhere Else.” The show, playing at the Verge Theater, is labeled as “A Verge Puppet Comedy,” performed entirely with life-size puppets controlled by actors in full black costume.
The story was inspired by Cassavaugh’s love of classic science fiction movies. In an author’s note about the play he wrote, “As a kid you don’t love things ironically, you just love things because they make you happy! And with a line-up pulled from an endless pool of Godzilla films, MGM monster movies and bizarre science fiction pictures, I was made very happy . . . This puppet show is a tribute to those late night movies.”
The play follows a few small town teenagers in the height of 1950s America trying to save their town from an alien invasion — from a terrible thing from somewhere else. With tongue-in-cheek satire and unexpected puppet physicality, the show had the entire audience laughing and applauding the whole way through. Sadie Cassavaugh, the director and Ryan’s wife, said, “The shows exhibit different styles of horror, but it’s always, at heart, a comedy.”
“The Terrible Thing from Somewhere Else” is the fourth puppet show Ryan Cassavaugh has written for The Verge. “Every year we try to advance what we can do with puppets. This is the first year we had the stage ninjas, which allowed for a lot more physicality,” Ryan said. The stage ninjas were actors dressed all in black who helped to move the set and, eventually perform a car jump scene in which the prop was lifted from the stage floor. Sadie said, “The first thing I thought was ‘Someone’s going to have to lift that car,’ but that sort of opened everything else up.”
“Luckily my wife is really good at making those things happen,” Ryan said, “I’ll just write them in the script and I’ll say ‘I don’t know how to do this, but I’ve written it to happen.’”
Right now, Ryan is busy with his other upcoming projects. “We have a kid’s puppet show going up in a month that I’m just finishing up the script for, so I’m pretty much going from one thing to the other,” he said.
Ryan has been with the theater since he first came to town and while he does a lot of other writing, he calls The Verge home. “We’ve got some great theaters in town,” he said, “The Black Box, The Ellen. They’ve all got their niche, but the really weird, edgy stuff, that’s what the Verge excels at. No other place would let us do stuff like this. It’s important to have that kind of theater here in Bozeman.”
On the topic of next year’s puppet show, Ryan seems to have no worries. He said, “We somehow do it. We try to be a little bit bigger, a little more audacious every year.”
“The Terrible Thing from Somewhere Else” has two shows left in its month-long run, Friday, Oct. 31 and Saturday, Nov. 1 at 8 p.m. Seats are $12 and can be reserved at Cactus Records, The Verge Theater or online at vergetheater.com. The Verge is located at 3204 N. Seventh, Suite C-1, in the left corner of the strip mall.