Clearer from a Distance: Themes of Belonging in Middletown, Frankenstein and the Life of a Mentee

by Joellen Sweeney

I’ve been thinking a lot about belonging recently. It’s something that’s been on my mind since May when I graduated college, but it wasn’t until I watched Third Rail’s production of Will Eno’s play Middletown that I was able to finally put a definition to it the feeling: Belonging is the sense of being woven into the fabric of your environment—threads stitching person to person and heart to heart. The Middletowners spend the majority of the play desperately seeking these connections as they round-peg-square-hole-it through their daily lives. Eno makes a convincing case that the sense of belonging is most clearly understood when it is absent from our lives. Early in the play, the Astronaut views his hometown from space and discovers the profound in the mediocre. In Act II, the Mechanic finds he feels most connected as he revisits a dance from his childhood. In each case, it is the distance that allows these characters to examine the connections that once made them part of a whole.

This outside-looking-in perspective on belonging was evident again at last weekend’s National Theatre Live performance of Frankenstein. The creature cries out, “I am the one who stands outside the door. I see inside. But I daren’t go in.” Like the Middletowners the Creature strives to make meaningful connections with others; in nearly every case he is violently rebuffed. He eventually opts out of society, choosing instead to commission Frankenstein to build him a sense of belonging, corpse-by-corpse, organ-by-organ. The play never gives us a chance to find out if it works, but the idea is certainly intriguing. Can belonging be crafted? Can you will yourself to feel it? Can others create it for you?

I’m finding many opportunities to examine these questions as I transition haltingly into my adult life. As an approval-hungry overachiever, I found it easy to belong in college; affirmations and accolades abounded. My graduating class of theatre majors numbered only five, so we got to know each other well over four years of collaborating. I was a known quantity with them, and that’s how I liked it. Then came May with all its pomp and circumstance, and suddenly I was unknown again in a world that seemed to have little interest in a friendly meet-and-greet. I never realized how much I belonged at college until I left.

I returned home to Portland, only to find that things had shifted in my absence. Like the Astronaut, I viewed home from a new perspective and found that I could no longer relax into the worn-in routines of childhood. Like the Creature, I spent the summer peering in doorways, seeking belonging in new places with new people.

These days I’m a mentee at Third Rail and I’m testing the waters of belonging again just a toe at a time. My fellow mentees are a lively bunch and we’re already cooking up mischief together. The Core Company members each have their own mystique; from the warm and wise to the gruff and grumbling to the sharp and sassy—each one personifying the cool cousin you want to be like when you grow up. It’s inviting to imagine belonging to this zany, noisy, loving family of artists, and with each passing day of rehearsal observation, scene study and office hours, it feels more and more possible. We’ll see what the future holds. For now, we remain—the Creature, the Middletowners and I—huddled on the doorstep, not quite daring to go in.

National Theatre Live with Third Rail Rep

For three years, Third Rail Rep has been hosting the screenings from the National Theatre Live program. We invite you to join us for some spectacular upcoming plays in the New Year.

What is National Theatre Live?

National Theatre Live is the National Theatre’s groundbreaking project to broadcast the best of British theatre from the London stage to cinemas around the world.

How do they do it?

Though each live broadcast is filmed in front of a live audience in the theatre, cameras are carefully positioned throughout the auditorium to ensure that cinema audiences get the ‘best seat in the house’ view of each production. Where these cameras are placed is different for each broadcast, to make sure that cinema audiences enjoy the best possible experience every time.

Where do Third Rail NT Live screenings take place?

All NT Live screenings are at the World Trade Center in Portland at 121 SW Salmon Street Portland 97204

How do I get tickets for Third Rail NT Live productions?

Call our box office at 503-235-1101
Click here
Buy a 6-ticket NT Live punch card by calling 503-235-1101

What NT Live screenings are coming next to Portland through Third Rail?


Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

January 3-4 & February 8, 2015
Golden Globe® winner and Academy Award® nominee James Franco (127 Hours, Milk) and Tony Award® nominee Chris O’Dowd (Bridesmaids, Girls) star in the hit Broadway production Of Mice And Men, filmed on stage by National Theatre Live. This landmark revival of Nobel Prize-winner John Steinbeck’s play is a powerful portrait of the American spirit and a heartbreaking testament to the bonds of friendship.


Skylight by David Hare

January 11 & 17, 2015
Bill Nighy (Love Actually, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) and Carey Mulligan (Inside Llewyn Davis, The Great Gatsby) feature in the highly anticipated production of David Hare’s Skylight, directed by Stephen Daldry (The Audience) and broadcast live from the West End by National Theatre Live.

On a bitterly cold London evening, schoolteacher Kyra Hollis (Carey Mulligan) receives an unexpected visit from her former lover, Tom Sergeant (Bill Nighy), a successful and charismatic restaurateur whose wife has recently died. As the evening progresses, the two attempt to rekindle their once passionate relationship only to find themselves locked in a dangerous battle of opposing ideologies and mutual desires.


JOHN with DV8 Physical Theatre

January 18 & 31

NOTE: JOHN contains adult themes, strong language and nudity; suitable for 18yrs+

Internationally renowned DV8 Physical Theatre brings their powerful new production to the National Theatre. JOHN authentically depicts real-life stories, combining movement and spoken word to create an intense and moving theatrical experience. Lloyd Newson, DV8’s Artistic Director, interviewed more than 50 men asking them frank questions, initially about love and sex. One of those men was John.

What emerged was a story that is both extraordinary and touching. Years of crime, drug use and struggling to survive lead John on a search in which his life converges with others, in an unexpected place, unknown by most.


Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

March 14 & 15, 2015
Suitable for 10 years +
Robert Louis Stevenson’s story of murder, money and mutiny is brought to life in a thrilling new stage adaptation by Bryony Lavery, broadcast live from the National Theatre.
It’s a dark, stormy night. The stars are out. Jim, the inn-keeper’s granddaughter, opens the door to a terrifying stranger. At the old sailor’s feet sits a huge sea-chest, full of secrets. Jim invites him in – and her dangerous voyage begins.

Putting Our Heads Together at Third Rail

by Karen Trumbo

Karen Trumbo joins Third Rail Repertory Theatre this season as a core company member. She first worked at Third Rail in last season’s production of Noises Off as Dotty/Mrs. Crachet, and appeared in this season’s production of Middletown.

We had been rehearsing Noises Off for a few weeks and were blessed with the ability to be working on the actual set that had been built in the Oregon Ballet Theatre’s warehouse (later to be moved to the Winningstad). Our rehearsals always started with a warm-up, which for this show was essential to keep us from freezing in the unheated warehouse in the middle of November. Isaac Lamb was in charge of the warm-up on this particular evening, and he chose an exercise called “Predator/Prey.”

The idea behind the game was that Isaac as the “Predator” picked three spots in this large space that included the huge set and lots of places to hide. The “Prey” (which included about 8-9 of us) were to touch each of these three spots in an allotted time of anywhere from 3-10 seconds, before returning to the Predator. The Prey could hide at the end of each countdown to save themselves and then begin to run for their next spot once a new countdown was begun; or until another Prey had successfully touched all three spots, made their way back to the Predator, and touched the Predator’s outstretched hand before the end of the countdown in which case that Prey would win the game. We were allowed to pick any strategy or path we each desired, but if you were seen by the Predator at the end of any countdown you were out.
Everyone was beyond committed to winning the game—quite the competitive group.

On the third or fourth round of this game, I had a laid out my path in my mind, and had a strategy for getting to each spot and back—knowing right where I would hide along the way. I made it to the first and second spot with ease, successfully hiding before the end of each countdown. When the third countdown started, I was running for my final spot at full speed and just as I reached the spot I met, also coming at full speed, Maureen Porter. We collided with full force…..her teeth and mouth with my big forehead.
With not a moment left before the end of the countdown we both dropped to the floor to hide, whispering urgently to each other, “Are you OK?” We each nodded in assent, and then a split second later when the next countdown began again we both jumped up and ran to go for the win. (I can’t remember for sure, but I think she beat me!)

Moments later we were laughing and sharing our “head-on” collision story. Maureen had a big fat bleeding lip and I had a large, swelling bump on my forehead. And I thought, “Ahhh… a comrade! Yep, this is my kind of people!”

Quick-Changes, Holidays, and the Best Pommes Frites in Town

‘Twas just before Christmas and throughout Third Rail Rep
Everyone was excited about Irma Vep
The place was abuzz like bees in a hive
Because of the plays with National Theater Live

With great plays and great gifts for the theatre lover
For the holidays Third Rail Rep’s got you covered

Tis the season, and Third Rail has everything you need to celebrate the holidays:

The Mystery of Irma Vep
A little holiday entertainment for you, your family, and your friends with some great Portland live theatre and the hilarious quick-change romp The Mystery of Irma Vep, December 5 – January 10.


Nel CentroExceptional food with a $10 discount at the fabulous Nel Centro restaurant (just short walk from the Winningstad Theatre), where you’ll find delicious starters and salads, homemade pastas, fantastic entrees and desserts, and the best French fries in the city. (Coupon provided by Third Rail with all Irma Vep ticket purchases.)


National Theater Live Punch CardThe perfect gift for everyone on your list: Tickets to Third Rail Main Stage Plays and National Theatre Live single-show tickets as well as 6-ticket punch cards (great for stocking stuffers).


24 Days of GivingAnd for your end-of-year giving, check out Third Rail’s 24 Days of Giving Campaign.

24 Days of Giving Campaign

Joshua Theresa Jennifer Lin

Meet Joshua Ayodiipo Ayo-Adeusi, a theatre major from Portland State University, and a recipient of a Third Rail Subscription Sponsorship which allows him to see all of this season’s Third Rail Main Stage plays, plus free study guides, and $10 additional tickets to bring friends and family.

Meet Theresa Park, one of the 14 members of this year’s Third Rail Mentorship Company, designed specifically for emerging young artists.

Meet Angela, who took advantage of our RUSH ticket program for Main Stage plays. For those 25 and under we offer free tickets 15 minutes before a production for the best remaining seats in the house.

Meet Melanie, Jill, and Alex, a family exposed to the wonders of National Theatre Live screenings that we make affordable and accessible in order to broaden the experience of theatre lovers.

Meet Company Member Jenn Lin, who works behind the scenes to light up the stage during Third Rail performances and brings the world of the play to life.

These are just some of the people you help when you give to Third Rail.

As a lover of the arts, you know that it takes resources to deliver the high-quality performances and quality theatre programs to the community. Today we ask you to support Third Rail Repertory Theatre so we may continue to offer the kind of theatre you have come to love. That’s the reason behind our 24 Days of Giving Campaign.

Since 2003 we have been committed to an artist-driven, collaborative model—producing professional, locally grown, handcrafted theatre with excellence and consistency; approaching the work without compromise, and always with a willingness to take creative risks. Third Rail continues to seek out ways to invite you into a personal artistic home. Now we are setting the course for our next evolution, and your support is needed to make it happen.

Third Rail is an exotic and endangered species; a company truly run by the artists who inhabit it. This creates a crucible for high-stakes work, where all aspects of the production from performers to designers to director are dedicated to the value of the whole. It also is a space that encourages and creates dialogue—which makes us better artists who grow because we push against each other in a way that is not possible outside of a company.

Third Rail also feels unsettled (in a good way), the group is never satisfied and is always sniffing out the next idea, a way to push the work farther and make it better. That kind of risk-taking should not be underestimated—it is rare and extremely valuable.

In an increasingly disengaged world, theatre reminds us that we have the power to affect each other. It’s an excellent way to practice being human together.

Please help support our creative endeavors as we continue to grow Third Rail Repertory Theatre’s impact in the arts community.
Thank you for giving and being a member of the Third Rail family.