Season 9

What’s Coming Up at Third Rail Rep

The night is alive…with pirates!
The Night Alive

The third show of our 9th Season is Conor McPherson’s moving, humorous, deeply introspective glance at how we define our place in the twisted mess that is life, The Night Alive.  Opening February 20th and starring company members (and Portland theatre stalwarts) Damon Kupper, Mike O’Connell, and Rolland Walsh, this beautiful, stirring play about compassion, love and who we choose to share our lives with, is sure to please. Get your tickets now before they’re gone!

NT Live Treasure Island

Our next National Theatre Live production, Treasure Island, also appears on the horizon…land ho! Get your tickets for our March 14th showings of this family-friendly production spectacular at the World Trade Center Theatre by clicking here!

Happy New Year

Looking for some fun in the new year? Third Rail has exactly what you need!

First, we have hilarious entertainment for you, your family, and your friends with the wild quick-change romp:

The Mystery of Irma Vep by Charles Ludlam.

Critics at the Oregonian named it a “Best Bet” for the winter theatre season, and it’s been described as “…one of the best laugh-out-loud farces I’ve ever seen!” (Broadway World).

Running through January 10 at the Winningstad Theatre right in downtown Portland, this play is a sure-fire break from the usual holiday fare.

Tickets available HERE

And if you are looking for something a little more serious, we are thrilled to be presenting National Theatre Live’s screening of the hit Broadway production of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, starring James Franco and Chris O’Dowd (Tony-nominated for his performance).

January 3rd and 4th at 2 PM and 7 PM.

Screenings at the World Trade Center Auditorium (121 SW Salmon St., Portland, OR)

Get tickets here!

The Relevance of Charles Ludlam’s The Mystery of Irma Vep

by Philip Cuomo

What is the value of understanding the context within which a play was written or conceived?

The Mystery of Irma Vep: A Penny Dreadful written by Charles Ludlam in 1984 is a creation of its time and place. The beauty of the ridiculous action is that it withstands the test of time for both its entertainment value and its relevancy.

“Irma Vep, relevant?” you ask. “Well, yes,” I say. “A social comment” in the ridiculous and melodramatic action celebrated for years for making people laugh. Understanding New York City and the audience of Ludlam’s Ridiculous Theatre Company makes the comments and relevance clearer.

When I began this project I assumed camp, cross-dressing, and the trappings of the Ridiculous Theatre Company were one place in which Ludlam and his life partner, Everett Quinton, could freely be themselves. It is a tenant of camp and drag that one is given the opportunity to be more of one’s self away from the roles forced on people by social norms and mores. It is my experience that the ferocious energy necessary to sustain the style of any play leaves the participant raw and exposed. Camp requires heightened energy and extreme commitment. I naively thought Ludlam simply found a world in which he could be himself.

The truth is that in the 1970s when the Ridiculous Theatre Company was making a name for itself, it was illegal to cross-dress in public. Ellen Stewart, who ran La Mamma and championed Ludlam’s company, would stand on the sidewalk of East Fourth Street during productions to keep an eye out for the police. And so just the creation of the play itself was a subversive act and hence a social comment.

Ludlam wrote, “Take things very seriously, especially focusing on those things held in low esteem by society and revealing them, giving them new meaning, new worth, by changing their context.”

With Irma Vep he gives new meaning to the performance style of camp. He also does this for the literary form the Penny Dreadful, which was a 19th-century serial similar to the work that Charles Dickens was doing. A Dickens serial would cost a shilling, but a Penny Dreadful would cost simply a penny. The market for such works was working-class adolescent boys; a group who had very little money but enough to pay for some type of entertainment. Hence the Penny Dreadfuls were stories about vampires, werewolves, mummies, and rich and exotic places—entertainments held in low esteem by society and high culture.

By the time Luldlam wrote The Mystery of Irma Vep in 1984 the AIDS Epidemic had hit in full force. There existed in the gay community an unknown horror that was sucking the life out of its community members. People were dying gothic and horrific deaths. Ludlam chose a particular style (the Penny Dreadful that was held in low-esteem) in order to tell a story about unexplainable, sudden, and horrific deaths. And within this structure, he explored death and fear and hope and companionship and love—and he gave the form new meaning and relevance.

BY 1984, Ludlam had been working in his unique and entertaining style for years, cultivating an audience and delivering entertainment that was driven by his personal life. The Mystery of Irma Vep was written for him and his life partner Quinton to perform. Their intimate relationship in the face of the AIDS epidemic (where so many people lost friends, family, and loved ones) is one layer in the fantastic quick-changes of characters that makes up the story.

The sad truth is that Charles died in 1989 from complications related to AIDS. Decades before he and the love of his life, Everett, could be married and face the future and the unknown together in a public embrace. Today that basic human right is now given to many people and the fears and frightening moments that life may reveal are now shared intimately and openly regardless of sexual orientation.

Understanding the Mystery of Irma Vep

by Director Philip Cuomo

Third Rail Core Company member Philip Cuomo gives us some insights into directing the very funny and challenging The Mystery of Irma Vep by Charles Ludlam. Be sure to bring the whole family to this hilarious, quick-change romp of a play, December 5, 2014 – January 10, 2015. 

Welcome to The Mystery of Irma Vep.  Playwright Charles Ludlam refers to his play as a Penny Dreadful, which (according to our crack dramaturgical team) is a 19th-century British publication that featured lurid serial stories, each part costing a penny—as opposed to Dickens’ work that cost a shilling. Charles (I feel like he wouldn’t mind me calling him by his first name) used a vast array of elements that would attract readers of Popular (with a capitol P) culture in the 19th century: monsters, mummies, vampires, werewolves, etc.  The play embraces the romantic, the gothic, the melodramatic and, most fully, the ridiculous. In fact, Charles named the theatre company that he founded and ran for 20 years The Ridiculous Theatre Company.  (For more insight into Charles and his company, check out the article on the next page.)

In Irma Vep, Charles writes one opulent detail on top of another all in service of celebrating the form of the Penny Dreadful; all to delight and entertain today’s audience.  His advice on how to do this?  “Take things very seriously, especially focusing on those things held in low esteem by society and revealing them, giving them new meaning, new worth…”

Wonderful!  To be given permission to take monsters, mummies, werewolves, and vampires so seriously and to revel in their magic. To work on moments requiring outlandish commitment, revealing how dangerous, scary, and dramatic living and loving truly are, and how we must pursue our need for love and so live boldly and shamelessly.  Amazing!

Producing Irma Vep is a magnificent opportunity for Third Rail to ply our craft to the fullest, to embrace high-wire derring-do, and stretch our imaginations in order to create Charles’ amazing, ridiculous world.  No matter how serious or ridiculous, Charles has written a sensational entertainment that we have the pleasure to share with you, sharing the same space and breathing the same air so that together we can manifest wonder and mystery. What a gift.

The Mystery of Irma Vep by Charles Ludlam

Last year Third Rail made a splash at the holidays with our record-setting production of NOISES OFF, which many consider the funniest play written in the past 25 years. This year we’re at it again with perhaps the funniest American play of the past 25 years: Charles Ludlam’s quick change romp, THE MYSTERY OF IRMA VEP. Two actors play all the roles in this hilarious send up of Victorian melodrama, farce, 50’s horror movies, Wuthering Heights, and Hitchcock’s Rebecca. With elaborate quick changes performed in mere seconds, wildly absurd characters, and an absolute distaste for anything serious, IRMA VEP should be the perfect gut-busting escape from all that holiday noise!

Staring Isaac Lamb and Leif Norby.

7 Reasons to See Middletown This Weekend

  1. The local critics loves the show:
    Real People People Inhabit “Middletown” at Third Rail Rep
    On the mysteries of the universe.
    Meandering through ‘Middletown’ and life
  2. It’s funny as hell and you will laugh your ass off.
  3. It’s better than getting a catalog.

    Yeah. You get the mail, it’s a clothes catalog. Maybe you leaf through it, maybe think, ‘Hey, I could buy those pants.’ Then you think, ‘But then it’d just be me in a different pair of pants.’ Then you go out and walk around, and that’s your day, time for bed.Will Eno, Middletown

  4. It’s sad and tender and you will be moved.
  5. It stars core company members of Third Rail Rep, so you know it’s gotta be good.
  6. It’s all about humanity and being human, so you can relate. (You are human, right?)
  7. It’s the last weekend of the run, and you’ll be so sad if you miss this show.

Don’t Miss Middletown by Will Eno


Performances Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30 PM and Sundays at 2 PM, this weekend and next!

Go see it and experience it for yourself. You will smile, laugh, and talk back to the play… read morePatrick Brassell

A curious meditation on the shadow dance between the profound and the mundane… read moreMarty Hughley, Arts Watch

This whacky, thoughtful ode to the mystery of existence…is a show not to miss… read moreHolly Johnson, The Oregonian

Middletown Vaults to the Top of Third Rail’s Ninth Season

Will Eno's "delicate, moving and wry" play begins on September 26 at the Winningstad

We kick off our ninth season with a play Third Rail has been dying to produce since it was the hit of Portland Center Stage’s 2009 JAW Festival, Middletown by Will Eno. The residents of Middletown lead lives that are probably not too different from ours. They wake up, go to work, say hello to their neighbors, fix the plumbing, seek advice on parenting, and try to live lives that are as rewarding as possible. It’s all fairly ordinary. And yet…ordinary doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of this quirky, word-frenzied, refraction of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. Middletown is a quizzical fable about life in all its sweetness and pain, joy and wonder, beginnings and endings.

  • Middletown by Will Eno
  • Middletown by Will Eno

Featured will be company members Michael O’Connell, Maureen Porter, Damon Kupper, Karen Trumbo, and Bruce Burkhartsmeier, joined by guest artists Amy Newman, Darius Pierce, Diane Kondrat, and Ben Newman. Direction will be by Marcella Crowson.

Performances begin September 24 at the Winningstad Theatre.