Banjo Dancing -- At the Old Vat Room through February 8.
Stephen Wade bills himself as the loser of the 48th Annual Squitters Mountain Song Dance Folklore Convention's Banjo Contest. While there must have been other losers, his sprightly act, now at Arena Stage's Old Vat Room, surely proves he must have been the best of them.
Wade's act, "Banjo Dancing," consists of twanging several such instruments into a musical frenzy, and telling low-key yarns in a folkloric way, so they come out covered with old-fashioned humor.
While light musical and comical entertainment is being blown up, elsewhere, to be passed off as a full-scale theatrical shows, this is just the right size act, in just the right place.
The wholesome enthusiasm with which Wade plays and patters makes even pointless stories fun and familiar ones worth his retelling.
Although he assumes the air of a social historian with his talk of research and careful crediting of sources, he also catches his audience on the acceptance of such seriousness by remarking, after one such story, "I first heard that at summer camp."
The fact is that however colorfully he may have picked up some tunes, his stories were easily found.
He does the whitewash scene from "Tom Sawyer," an anecdote from the "The Joys of Yiddish," and a sales routine "from an actual pen salesman in 1952 in New York -- those are his words."
His real contribution is in telling them well.