Incognito: Dramaturgical Notes

Incognito Dramaturgical Notes by Brian Myers


All this confirms me in thinking that we’re splinters and mosaics; not, as they used to hold, immaculate, monolithic, consistent wholes.
Virginia Woolf

When a personal computer starts up, you see a screen we conventionally call the desktop. On the desktop you might see folders, and inside the folders are documents. Once in a while something malfunctions. You might try to open a folder but get an error message, or you might open a document and see garbage characters. Malfunctions like these may provoke a recognition that we are not working with actual folders and documents. We have a sudden queasy fear that our work may have been lost somewhere down there in the ones and zeroes. An expert may diagnose the problem using words like file allocation table, master boot record, and disk sectors. While we are willing to posit the existence of such obscure mysteries, the explanation is full of confusing details that don’t fit well with our idea of a file and a folder. At any rate, we can’t do any more work until someone puts things right—until the underlying system is restored and once again maps correctly to our expectations for “folders” and “files.”

Folders and files are illusions. It’s not that they don’t exist, but they are not what they seem to be. The illusion of folder-ness is necessary and helpful. Like a good map it hides details, presenting just enough information to let us operate easily. We simply point and click to perform what is really a complex manipulation of digital information through a variety of hardware and software subsystems. But the map is not the territory.

Daniel Dennett, a philosophy professor and cognitive scientist, is well within the main stream of current thought when he proposes that the notion we have of ourselves as coherent rational beings is a useful illusion, much like a computer’s folders and files. Like a computer, the human brain also comprises a variety of complex subsystems. Oliver Sacks tells us, for example, that the brain processes a “continuous but unconscious sensory flow from the movable parts of our bodies (muscles, tendons, joints) by which their position and tone and motion are continually monitored and adjusted, but in a way which is hidden from us because it is automatic and unconscious.” Your brain creates for you an impression of yourself that serves as the user interface for a complex organism.

William James in 1890 distinguished “I” and “me” as components in the sense of self: “I” is a perceiving subject that knows things, and “me” is one of the perceived objects the “I” can know. Over the past few decades scientists have become more aware of how that self-perception manifests in the brain and how it may have evolved as a way of adapting to our environment. Antonio Damasio’s work has shown that emotions arise as complex physiological reactions to stimuli, and that feelings arise when the brain interprets emotions. Arthur Melton’s theory of memory recognizes three distinct memory sub-processes he named encoding, storage, and retrieval. Experiments by Michael Gazzaniga confirm the brain possesses a story-telling function, the interpreter, whose job is to explain events—to construct a model of the environment based on sensory input and memory. Much subsequent work has investigated how the brain constructs from memory an autobiographical sense of self.

Our notion of self is so fundamental to our experience that we take it for the most certain and undeniable reality of all. And as long as the input and output of our neurological processes align reasonably well with the outside world, we take that self-notion for granted. But any of these subsystems may fail, and a failure at any point can produce seemingly bizarre behavior of the sort popularized in books like The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. Some patients fail to recognize one of their own limbs as part of themselves. Some persistently claim to be in places they manifestly are not. Some seem unaware that they are blind or paralyzed. When neuroscience finds causes for such symptoms in organic malfunction, the system of self-awareness we rely on is revealed to be more complex than our conscious experience allows us to perceive. We may have a queasy intuition that our notion of who or what we are dissolves somewhere down in the neurons and corpuscles.

Some of the characters in Incognito are neuroscientists and some are patients. The play is not exactly about the science, but it is imbued with awareness of the questions that neuroscience raises. Some of the characters experience malfunctions. Some cope with malfunctions in others. Most of them, healthy or not, experience mismatched perceptions, finding themselves in conversations with people who simply cannot see the world the same way they do. Some develop a queasy awareness that their own idea of who they are may be less accurate than they have assumed. 

Playwright Nick Payne goes further: his concerns manifest themselves not just in the experience of the characters but also in those of the actors and the audience. Several features of the play challenge us in ways that foreground how we receive and process information. Most prominently, the ordering of scenes doles out information in a way that deliberately complicates the audience’s efforts to connect the pieces into a coherent narrative. Also the actors each take on multiple roles, often switching with startling rapidity as the memories and emotions of a new person suddenly animate the same actor’s body. Doubling parts and skipping from place to place or time to time are standard fare in theater, but in this play those devices closely align with a concern for the fragility of the brain’s ability to interpret facts by constructing a story. The actors themselves are incognito—manufacturing identities and trapped night after night reliving the same memories as though each time were completely new. Payne explains: “the idea is there is no continuous self, so you don’t have a continuum between how and when and who they play. It’s never about a game or experiment, I honestly go in thinking it’s the best way to try and deliver the material.” He names the play’s three acts Encoding, Storing, and Retrieving. The names may direct attention to the audience’s experience as much as the characters’.

Incognito: A Tribute to Opening Night

In honor of what would have been Third Rail’s opening night of Incognito by Nick Payne, Core Company Members Maureen Porter and Darius Pierce have decided to go truly incognito, and perform one of their scenes disguised as remarkably talented children. Here to introduce one of the play’s interwoven storylines that follows (literally) the brain of Albert Einstein across America, please welcome Shiloh (age 5) and Julian (age 7).

Keep connected to Third Rail for information on future dates to see the rest of the story (performed by adults).

The cancellation of revenue-generating programming over the next several weeks will have a substantial impact on our organization, and we are extremely grateful to those who are able to give a little extra support to Third Rail at this time. 

Introducing the Cast of Melancholy Play: a chamber musical

Award-winning playwright, Sarah Ruhl, will make you fall in love with love this winter with Melancholy Play: a chamber musical running November 30- December 22 at CoHo Theatre, directed by Rebecca Lingafelter*. Meet the outstanding cast who will be bringing this whimsical comedy to life.

Leah Yorkston as Tilly

Leah Yorkston (Tilly) is so excited to be making her Third Rail debut in this incredible show with an amazing team. She  appeared this summer as The Baker’s Wife in Into the Woods at Broadway Rose. Local credits include Maria in The Sound of Music, The Narrator in Joseph & the Technicolor Dreamcoat (Broadway Rose), Dusty Springfield in Forever Dusty (Triangle Productions; Drammy nominated, Best Actress in a Musical), Janet in The Rocky Horror Picture Show (Live on Stage), and Sweeney Todd (Portland Center Stage). Leah can also be seen in the IFC TV show, Documentary Now! Original Cast Album: Co-Op (Season 3).

Inthica Tell* as Frances

Ithica Tell
 (Frances) is delighted to perform with Third Rail for the first time! Other favorite roles including: Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar (PAMTA Award) Othello in Othello; Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing. Ithica has appeared on GrimmThe LibrariansThe Benefits of Gusbandry, and Life After First Failure.

Kerry Ryan* as Joan

Kerry Ryan (Joan) is a graduate of Brown University and the La MaMa Experimental Theatre Program, a former member of Imago Theatre, Theatre Vertigo, and the Anonymous Theatre Company, and a proud current member of Third Rail Repertory (A Bright New BoiseThe Realistic JonesesThe Angry BrigadeMen on BoatsArlington). Regional credits include Futura and JAW at Portland Center Stage, The Servant of Two Masters and The Tempest at the Seattle Shakespeare Company, and Julius Caesar with the Tennessee Shakespeare Company.

Nick Ferrucci* as Frank

Nick Ferrucc
i (Frank) is happy to return to Third Rail, where his previous credits are Arlington [a love story]John and The Angry Brigade. Portland theatre credits: RedwoodCrossing MnisoseAstoria: Parts One and Two, JAW at Portland Center Stage, Teenage Dick at Artists Repertory Theatre, Luna Gale at Coho, Peter and the Starcatcher at Portland Playhouse, True West at Profile Theatre. Regional: Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Maples Repertory Theatre, Sierra Repertory Theatre, Commonweal Theatre Company, Heritage Theatre Festival, and Bright Star Touring Theatre. He holds an MFA in Acting from Northern Illinois University, a BFA in Theatre from Southern Oregon University.

Michael Hanna* as Lorenzo

Michael Hanna
 (Lorenzo) is delighted to be making his Third Rail Repertory debut. A graduate of the University of Minnesota/Guthrie Theater Program, Michael’s recent regional credits include The Lion in WinterSense and Sensibility, and Twelfth Night (upcoming) at The Guthrie Theatre; This Bitter Earth at New Conservatory Theatre Center; Le SwitchLittle Women, and Ride the Cyclone at the The Jungle Theater; and The Mermaid Hour at Mixed Blood Theatre Company. He’s the frontman for the band Ready Freddie (IG – @readyfreddiempls).

*denotes a member of Actors’ Equity Association

Introducing the Cast of Arlington [a love story]

Enda Walsh’s play about holding onto humanity in a dystopian city runs May 31 – June 22 at CoHo Theatre and is directed by Isaac Lamb. Meet the outstanding cast who will be bringing this poetic, haunting drama to life.

Nick Ferrucci headshot
Nick Ferrucci* as Young Man

Nick is happy to return to Third Rail where his previous credits are John and The Angry Brigade. He has also performed with Artists Repertory Theatre, Portland Center Stage, Portland Playhouse, Profile Theatre, and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Q & A with Nick

What excites you about working on Arlington [a love story]?
The rehearsal room and the people in it. The process with these particular artists. This play is also unlike any other in ways I do not want to spoil here, but come watch and you’ll know what I mean.

Critics and audiences have compared Arlington to 1984 and Black Mirror in terms of the setting and tone. Are there any other books, movies, or other works of art that it evokes for you?
The book Man’s Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl.  

Arlington takes place in a waiting room of sorts. What is the best, or worst, waiting room you’ve been in?
I think the world we live in is perhaps the best and worst waiting room I’ve been in. It’s certainly the largest, and the magazines are still so out of touch. 

What are you willing to wait for, even when you don’t know how long it will take?
Apparently I’m willing to wait for the Seattle Mariners to make the playoffs again. 

When the world feels dark, what gives you hope?

Kayla Hanson headshot
Kayla Hanson as Young Woman

Kayla, a member of Third Rail’s 2018-19 Mentorship Cohort, makes her Third Rail Main Stage debut with Arlington. She’s been seen on stage in Portland with Rutabaga Story Co., Shaking the Tree Theatre, Theatre Vertigo, and the Red Balloon Collective, where she is also a founding member and Managing Director.

Q & A with Kayla

What excites you about working on Arlington [a love story]?
So many things! I was already a fan of Enda Walsh’s work, and this script, especially the role of the young woman, is so enticing. Getting to create through movement and dance is what fills my cup artistically, so getting to focus on solely that is a dream. Being in a Third Rail show after having been in the mentorship cohort last year is also an honor. It feels good to know that you already admire, respect, and genuinely enjoy being around the people you’re working with prior to even starting rehearsals. It feels like coming back to an artistic home.

Critics and audiences have compared Arlington to 1984 and Black Mirror in terms of the setting and tone. Are there any other books, movies, or other works of art that it evokes for you?
Black Mirror was the first thing I thought of when I read the script. For me, that and The Twilight Zone go hand in hand.

Arlington takes place in a waiting room of sorts. What is the best, or worst, waiting room you’ve been in?
Worst- ER, DMV, waiting in line outdoors at a football stadium in the cold for a cattle call audition for Star Wars: The Force Awakens (spoiler alert- I wasn’t cast). Best- probably Disneyland (they’re spoon feeding me an experience).

What are you willing to wait for, even when you don’t know how long it will take?
Breakfast/brunch food. Caffeine. Love.

When the world feels dark, what gives you hope?
That all the happiness, hope, and safety that I’ve felt before are not isolated incidents, and that I’ll feel them again, the support from my friends and family, and vine compilations.

Rebecca Lingafelter headshot
Rebecca Lingafelter* as Isla

Company Member Rebecca Lingafelter‘s acting credits with Third Rail include Collapse, That Hopey Changey Thing, Sweet and Sad, and Belleville. She is also Co-Artistic Director of PETE.

Q & A with Rebecca

What excites you about working on Arlington [a love story]?
So much. I am excited about all of the collaborators on the piece. The design, production and performance team are just incredible and it is thrilling to watch all of these brilliant minds wrestle with this gorgeous text. I’m a big fan of Enda Walsh, Penelope and New Electric Ballroom are two of my favorite plays that Third Rail has done, and I really think we are the company that can best represent this work on stage in Portland. I am excited to be a part of that process. Finally, this is my first time on stage after having my daughter, so the way that I am seeing the world, the work, and the stakes of what it means to make a play about how we behave towards each other when the world is falling apart feels especially potent and rich. 

Critics and audiences have compared Arlington to 1984 and Black Mirror in terms of the setting and tone. Are there any other books, movies, or other works of art that it evokes for you?
Enda is definitely swimming around in the sci-fi/post-future genre (of which I am a big fan), so yes, lots of references; 1984, Hunger Games, Minority Report, The Matrix, Children of Men… I could go on. I think what’s particularly evocative about Enda’s world is that he is elevating this genre into poetry. You can read the facts of the world as dystopian and post-future, and you can also read it as a metaphor for the ways in which we live our lives now. I think this is what the best sci-fi does; it uses an imagined future to illuminate something about our present. 

Arlington takes place in a waiting room of sorts. What is the best, or worst, waiting room you’ve been in?
Best: The Singapore Airport – there’s a movie theatre, a spa, a giant mall, food galore… you never want to leave. Worst: Any hospital.  

When the world feels dark, what gives you hope? 
The relentless need for human beings to be in relationship to one another. Love is like a weed, it will grow in the most unlikely of places and destabilize the most well-constructed of foundations. 

Kerry Ryan headshot
Kerry Ryan* as Supervisor

Company Member Kerry Ryan‘s productions with Third Rail include A Bright New Boise, The Realistic Joneses, The Angry Brigade, and Men on Boats. Kerry is also a member/founder of the Anonymous Theatre Company, and happily spends her days at the Oregon Children’s Theatre and managing Dog Adventures Northwest.

Q & A with Kerry

What excites you about working on Arlington [a love story]?
There is so much here that is left open to interpretation, and it has been amazing to create such vivid backstory ideas with this group of intelligent theatre-makers. 

Critics and audiences have compared Arlington to 1984 and Black Mirror in terms of the setting and tone. Are there any other books, movies, or other works of art that it evokes for you?
Those two references are pretty spot-on. I’d also add just about anything written by Ray Bradbury. And maybe The Truman Show, in a weird kind of way. 

Arlington takes place in a waiting room of sorts. What is the best, or worst, waiting room you’ve been in?
Just reading this question gives me anxiety. 

What are you willing to wait for, even when you don’t know how long it will take?
My kid to grow up. I’d like time to slow down a little. 

When the world feels dark, what gives you hope? 

*denotes a member of Actors’ Equity Association

2nd Annual Spring Fundraiser

Join us on May 15, 6pm
at Lagunitas Taproom

Food. Drink. Live music from the Barra Brown Trio and B-Side Book Club. Incredible goods and experiences to bid on. Quality time with Emcee Darius Pierce. Plus the chance to increase your impact thanks to a CHALLENGE GRANT from theatre-supporter extraordinaire, Ronni Lacroute. Ronni will match any money raised at the event up to $25,000.

Come show your support for Third Rail’s locally-grown, artist-driven, thought-provoking work– and have a great time doing it!

Tickets are $60* online or at the door.
(*Includes one drink token. Additional drink tokens available for $7.)

What can I bid on at the auction?

Get excited. There will be a number of enticing items, including:

a 7-night trip to the island of Bali
7 night trip to Bali
Your pool awaits.
a 7-night trip to Cortona, Italy
7 night trip to Cortona, Italy
Yes, this IS where they filmed Under the Tuscan Sun.
a National Theatre Live brunch package (details coming soon!)
National Theatre Live Brunch Package
Gillian Anderson dares you to bid.

And so much more. For example:

  • Nature cruise aboard a “floating gypsy caravan” on the Willamette River (we recommend sunrise or sunset)
  • Personalized Works4Wine tour for two of some of the finest wineries close to Portland (transportation included!)
  • Private garden cocktail party
  • Local artists’ work, including jewelry, garden art, and a painting
  • Wine and liquor baskets
  • Home-baked goodies and local butter
  • Jet boat rides
  • Certificate for Alexander Technique with Third Rail guest artist Cristi Miles
  • Customized B-Side Book Club performance
  • Portland Japanese Garden Membership
  • And MORE!

Are you excited yet?

What can I eat and drink while I enjoy good company for a good cause?

Well, to begin with, craft beer from Lagunitas Brewing Company.
Plus appetizers, tapas, sweet treats, and more from some of your favorite local eateries like Alexis Foods, ¿Por Qué No?, Sizzle Pie and Lardo.

So let’s party like it supports Third Rail’s exceptional work for the 2019-20 season and beyond…because it certainly does. Thank you for being part of our artistic community!

Where can I park?

Besides street parking, you are welcome to park in the RE/MAX lot (NE Broadway and 2nd Ave) or Transmission Exchange lot (NE Schuyler and 3rd Ave). Light rail and buses can also drop you right by the Lagunitas Taproom.