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The Most Mediocre Story Never Told!
Poke Until Wince
part of
The New York International Fringe Festival (FringeNYC)

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

The Most Mediocre Story Never Told!

Everyone has a story, yes, but is everyone’s stageworthy? That’s the question that Jay Sefton amusingly, if sometimes aimlessly, explores in his one-man show, The Most Mediocre Story Never Told!, at the New York International Fringe Festival.

Sefton, who grew up Irish-Catholic just outside Philadelphia, insists he’s led an utterly unremarkable life - his parents divorced, yes, but only when he was older, and they always loved him; he sums up his athletic career by saying “I have this gift for looking like I’m going to be good at a sport.” But he managed to cultivate his love for acting (which kindled during a performance of a Passion Play in which he starred as Jesus) into a career, and even conquered a drinking problem. An engaging, ingratiating presence onstage, Sefton vividly lives up to his description of himself as a “neverending underdog,” but is so completely lacking in self-pity that you come to love and root for him anyway.

Solo shows have certainly been constructed from more insubstantial lives, and around less magnetic performers, so Sefton is on solid ground here; his recollections do not want for straightforward levity or quiet honesty. In fact, they could use still more: He strains in including a “second” character, a darker, ballsier version of himself that intermittently takes over the action and tries to force issues the milder Sefton would rather leave alone. If Sefton plays his worse half just as well as he does his better nature - with an overpuffed chest and unapologetic, crotch-grabbing truck driver’s swagger - neither actor nor director (Debra Deliso) ever makes the conceit convincing. In a show that prides itself on offering nothing else, that’s a significant detriment.

As, for that matter, is the finale, in which the human Sefton abandons the stage so his dual visions of himself can duke it out on video - an unsatisfyingly realized conclusion that’s far too easy an answer to what’s set up as a surprisingly complex question. With The Most Mediocre Story Never Told!, Sefton confirms that it’s possible, and perhaps even likely, that a one-person play can be successfully spun from any source. But Sefton’s own venture would cut considerably deeper if you could feel that he believes his own unique story is one truly worth telling.

The Most Mediocre Story Never Told!
60 minutes
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: TheaterMania


Poke Until Wince

A contemporary, comic La Ronde, treating issues as diverse as sex, racism, and adultery in present-day America, is a concept so fascinating and potentially rich with possibilities it’s difficult to believe that it doesn’t show up onstage more often. What’s even more surprising, however, is that Matthew Chesmore’s own attempt to plumb what should be a surefire genre, Poke Until Wince, misfires in almost every way.

It counts characters such as a massage therapist who can elicit borderline-orgasmic reactions from his female clients but can only anger and disgust his own girlfriend in bed; a wife who gets aroused at the thought of her husband making love to a black woman; and a tax secretary who made one porn film a decade ago and has been trying to live it down ever since. But each of the scenarios is so underdeveloped, stretching single simplistic ideas without ever expanding on them, that nothing ever plays as either edgy or alluring. And aside from a vague through line of people being unable to determine their definition of sexiness and odd, incongruous references to “Dutch” things (Dutch wives, “going Dutch,” etc.), overarching themes are in short, if not nonexistent, supply.

For this type of show to work, the playwright and director need to establish meaningful connections between each character’s two appearances (usually in successive scenes) and between the group as a whole; Chesmore, who also directed, doesn’t, so his show feels more patchwork than unified. As such, there’s not much for the actors to grab onto. Only Mandy Schmieder, as the hardcore secretary, gives a forceful portrayal, and then only because her character is too outlandish to be denied the spotlight. But she represents the key failing that Chesmore never surmounts: Six scenes of approximate people speaking abstractly about sex is neither erotic nor insightful. And when the characters start expounding endlessly on pearl necklaces (yes, that kind) or their anxieties about misplaced epilepsy medication, you’ll be wincing almost as soon as Chesmore’s poking starts.

Poke Until Wince
50 minutes
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: TheaterMania