'Chart Toppers of 1349': Reaching for the stars at Capital Fringe Festival

Tuesday, July 13, 2010; 10:17 PM

As storyteller Tim Ereneta performs "Chart Toppers of 1349," the small stage is adorned only with a grinning skull on the seat of a ladder-back chair. This skull, we are told in Ereneta's signature dry style, belongs to Signore Kasem.

Yep -- that would be Casey Kasem, the DJ whose warm, anecdotal mode presides over Ereneta's hour-long show. (Think of it as "Medieval Top 40.") Ereneta has Kasem's patter down cold as he introduces the popular tales that once took Europe by storm; he even serves up corny dedications from listeners.

And listeners are all he has, naturally. Because this is 14th-century Italy, Ereneta is working in an oral form, and he makes barbed remarks about the evolving but unstable new technology that will eventually change the storytelling biz: print.

The tales are centuries-old fables, myths and fairy tales filled with curses and morals, death and revenge. Snakes lure damsels, and owls are mistaken for demons; certain characters are endowed with superhuman attributes as the tales grow extremely tall. Incredible action, comic relief: It's an old formula, still topping the charts.

Of course, this is the antithesis of a summer blockbuster. Working in a small, rough upstairs room called the Bedroom at Fort Fringe (through Saturday), Ereneta offers no special effects, no verbal bombast and few gestures. He doesn't hot-dog with his storytelling, and he's so understated you can't really call him a spellbinder. Even the Casey Kasem shtick is soft-pedaled. But the old stories are interesting, and Ereneta's methodical manner and quiet wit are a refreshing change of pace.

-- Nelson Pressley

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