Self-described 'Big Mouth' Weaves A Fabulist Story


'Bocaccio' Entertains Through The Tell Of The Tale

March 24, 1991|By Dolly Merritt

Fabulist: A writer of fables. It's the one word Richard Dewey wants written on his tombstone.

Eleven years ago, the 62-year-old Columbia resident discovered he liked to write stories and, since then has been telling them as well.

Dewey bills himself as "Bocaccio" (Spanish for "big mouth"). Overthe years, Bocaccio has performed at the annual Maryland RenaissanceFestival, Warfield's restaurant in Historic Savage Mill and the British Association of Storytellers in England.

He also is engaged foran indefinite run at the Poor Man's Dinner Theater in Slayton House in the Village of Wilde Lake, where he has performed for the past sixmonths.

For $10, theater goers can eat, drink and merrily listen to Bocaccio weave a series of plots that may include a sad story about a boy and his dog, a love story that focuses on a French baker and his errant wife, or a humorous fable about an elk who falls in love with a fog horn.

"The shows are always different; each program (of stories) is repeated twice through the course of one year," Dewey said.

"I'm the longest running show in Columbia," Dewey said. And that's fine with him since he says he wants to stay in one spot and continue to build a following. Some of his fans, he says, come back againand again to listen to their favorite stories.

During a recent Sunday evening, "Bocaccio" could be seen waiting in the wings -- actually a hallway outside of the room where diners were already filling their plates, buffet-style with food. About 45 diners had assembled around the tables that were covered in red checkered tablecloths -- creating a French cafe kind of ambience.

The show began as the storyteller casually appeared before the audience, perched himself on a stool, and lightly remarked to the diners, "Don't turn around; eat your dinner, the more you consume, the better the stories will become."

Sitting beside a rack from which dangled a variety of hats, includinga French beret, a safari hat and a jaunty British-type cap -- the storyteller placed the first chapeau of the evening on his head.

"You have to have a hat on to tell the story," he said. And so began thetales, often punctuated with humor that produced chuckles from his attentive listeners.

Dewey estimates his repertoire consists of about 10 hours of such stories, most of which he has written himself. Occasionally, he uses the works of other writers such as O. Henry or James Thurber.

However, the storyteller admits, the glory is in telling his own fables and being able to experience an immediate reactionfrom those who have listened to his tales. "That's something I wouldnever experience if I wrote books; I wouldn't know if my stories were being enjoyed or not," he said.

"I live with a story for a long time before anyone hears it," said Dewey, who sometimes rehearses using a tape recorder. He often is asked if he has acting experience, but Dewey says actors and storytellers "are two different people."

"An actor plays to the other people on the stage; a storyteller plays to the audience," Dewey said.

Many storytellers gather tales that have been passed down for years to preserve a "oral heritage," said Dewey. But that's not his style. Dewey draws on his own life experiences when writing his tales. As a young man, he said, he worked as a lumberjack, a dishwasher, and a coffee importer in Central America.

Dewey had just gotten out of the Army after a tour in Korea, when he became employed by a coffee importer; he was sent to Central America to learn about the business.

He has woven experiences and personalities from this colorful past into many of his stories.

Dewey, a non-practicing ordained Lutheran minister, graduated from the Chicago Theologian Seminary; he earned a masters degree in Theology from the University of Southern California.

Dewey, a paint contractor, and his wife, Jacqueline, moved to the village of Harper's Choice in 1971and raised four children, all now grown. Before Dewey went into semiretirement last year, he worked for three years as a lobbyist in Washington, D.C., for an amalgamation of national volunteer organizations. "We were lobbying for laws affecting charity contributions," he said.

When Dewey is not writing or telling his tales, he is attendingthe University of Maryland, taking courses in philosophy.

"I'm reshaping myself," he said. "I never had the time to give to intellectual pursuits." Dewey says his classes -- all audit -- enable him to enjoy his studies. "I don't take a test; I have done that and it's pointless," he says.

Apparently as Dewey enriches his life, he enhances his stories and his life has taken a happily-ever-after turn.

"It's fun to have eventually found the direction I should have taken earlier," he says.

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