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  • Writer's pictureJames Sheldon

3-Way Stop at Schoolhouse Theater, NY

Updated: Nov 13, 2023

Reviewed By: Bruce Apar , Broadway World

In 3-Way Stop, a threesome of short plays on stage through Oct. 29 at Schoolhouse Theater in Croton Falls (Putnam County, N.Y.), playwright James Sheldon brings to the fore miniature slices of life that cut close to the bone – sibling rivalry, marital meanderings, the search for life’s meaning (or at least for a more meaningful life.)

In Mr. Sheldon’s triptych of one-acts, under the elegant, well-paced direction of Schoolhouse artistic director Owen Thompson (with a nod also to producing director Bram Lewis), a 3-Way Stop piece might begin with a single word, or with a lawn gnome speaking, or as if it’s the audience (rather than the character) entering the action, such as meeting a character mid-phone conversation, creating a mildly voyeuristic sensation. I was tickled by Mr. Thompson's choice of interstitial music between acts, 'cause you can do no wrong in my book if you go, as he does, with Dylan, Bowie and Cash.

This award-winnng writer’s way with dialogue is spare and natural (not to mention reveling in the nature around us). Each piece is a two-hander, with actors Natalia Cuevas, PJ Sosko and Eric Bryant each playing two unrelated characters across the three plays. They move quickly, without fuss or presto change-o makeup transformations, from one play and persona to the next. The people they bring to life are not remarkable, and that is the point. Similarly, the simple set design (Harry Feiner) and lighting design (Dennis Parichy) are effectively impressionistic, with just enough presence to do their jobs while keeping the focus firmly on Mr. Sheldon’s knowing character studies.

Where Mr. Sheldon’s women in 3-Way Stop are brainy and confident, his men can be engagingly nerdy or needy or blithely bigoted. His people are us, or people we know, or to whom we might be married or otherwise related. Call it theater verite. There are quick costume changes, to be sure, but their street clothes cannot hide the fact that Sheldon wants us to peer beyond the superficiality of wardrobes to see his creations in all their psychological and emotional nakedness. He accomplishes that without getting heavy-handed or speaking in psychobabble. It’s just folks figuring out what is their safest yet most rewarding path through this mortal coil; which, in turn, makes us think about what is ours?

Evocative to some degree of iconic British playwright Harold Pinter, Mr. Sheldon can subtly misdirect us as to where things are going, leaving us to speculate where characters stand, where they are headed, and where they will end.

In other words, the writer, with these stage works, is not chasing high drama. His intention, rather, is to dissect the mundane thrum of daily life through organic and pithy commentaries on the foibles of being human. After all, who can’t identify, for example, with managing, for better or worse, the life-long impact our parents have on our lives?

Here’s a handy tourist guide to the world of James Sheldon’s 3-Way Stop.

Patterns of the Sky In this May-September relationship, Franklin (PJ Sosko) is a well-to-do Wall Street player who’s 18 years the senior of his trophy wife Eliza (Natalia Cuevas). What does Eliza see in Franklin? She sees green, not only in the verdant environs of their country retreat, but in his bank account. Like a bird crashing into a window because it mistakes the glass-reflected sky for the sky itself, Franklin just might be more in love with the appearance of having a young, comely wife than he is in love with the real thing.

Cowboys & Indians Mitch (PJ Sosko) is visiting the research lab of older brother Michael (Eric Bryant), a dutiful research scientist at a small college who is devoted to his exploratory work, which currently entails converting switchgrass into biofuel. Mitch, meanwhile, is a meat-packing manager ever on the lookout, beyond his paycheck, for a big score, which he has yet to score midway through life. Mitch believes where there’s a will (their mother’s), there’s a way for him to capitalize on a surefire investment opportunity. But he needs Michael’s cooperation to take a shot at the riches he covets. Any resemblance to Biblical brothers Cain and Abel is purely intentional.

A Beautiful Day Judgment Day has arrived and Matthew (Eric Bryant), a social psychologist, and math major Lil (Natalia Cuevas) are biding their time in a garden, as if at a bus stop, awaiting their ride. No, it’s not an Uber. It’s an extra-terrestiral transport. They are in a cohort of End of Days believers and are plaintively looking skyward to spot the “Sentinels” that are en route to ferry them and the rest of “Dr. Anna’s” disciples to the planet Nibiru in the great beyond. We eavesdrop on the two talk about cognitive dissonance, mass hypnosis, etheric energy, God versus gods, Beatles versus Bible, reincarnation, and their mutual hatred of that Potter kid, among other topics. The lesson here? That place you envision as home to your future happiness may just be staring you in the face.

For what it’s worth, when it comes to science-fiction-fueled tropes about what UFOs and aliens would look like if they in fact existed, I fully agree with what Matthew says: “...maybe they're right here, but they haven't made themselves visible to the human eye.”

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