The Most Mediocre Story Never Told!
nytheatre.com review by James Comtois
August 15, 2009
There is definitely a formula for one-person autobiographical shows. They often have the writer-performer telling his or her life story in an amusing yet poignant way, playing out characters in their lives (usually family members), and revealing life lessons they learned. Jay Sefton's very funny and charming one-man show, The Most Mediocre Story Never Told!, directed by Debra Deliso, is either an exception to this formula or an exemplar of it.
See, Sefton wants to tell stories ubiquitous to the format of the one-person show about his life that make him seem interesting, unique, and strong. The only problem, of course, is that he doesn't think he's really any of those things. Sure, he has some anecdotes, but nothing that really reveal any profound truths.
Except...in a number of ways, they do. With the help of a cocky, swaggering alter ego (the version of himself he wishes he were more like: confident, able to hit on girls, unafraid to stand up to bullies), he sifts through his life to find stories that make the show worthwhile to the audience.
Unsurprisingly, the stories that are interesting—like the time he got into a big fight with his brother over Sefton's then-girlfriend or when he wet himself in class in the first grade after a teacher called on him to answer a math problem he couldn't solve—are the stories Sefton is a bit too reluctant to tell. They're too messy. They reveal him to be too much of a doormat; too passive. They end anticlimactically.
Sefton's townie alter ego tells him that his real problem is his storytelling: he's getting too caught up in being an honest and objective presenter of events, when he should be more willing to select and choose details to embellish and to omit. The timid persona of Sefton thinks that would be lying. And therein lies the main conflict of the two personas through the course of the show, as they debate which details of Sefton's life to show, as well as how to show them.
This everyman quality Sefton portrays is of course exactly what makes the show interesting and funny and what makes Sefton himself as an onstage persona engaging and relatable. Sefton is a charming and adept performer, keeping the audience's sympathy for the breezy hour-long piece.
Sefton's is one of the many autobiographical confessional shows that invariably play at every Fringe Festival, though in an odd way, this one seems to have both more artifice and honesty. He is, in fact, just a shy guy from Philadelphia, who was well-raised, loves his parents, and gets along with his other siblings. In short, he doesn't think he has any stories of any interest to relay to the audience.
The Most Mediocre Story Never Told! manages to be clever and funny without being either precious or cloying. It manages to leap over the biggest hurdle that all shows in this genre face: who is this person on the stage and why should we in the audience care? In one sense, Sefton's answer is: nobody, and you shouldn't. In another, his answer is what makes him somebody you care about and become interested in.