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“Feeding the Dragon”

Hartford Stage

 

Hartford Stage is currently presenting “Feeding the Dragon,” playwright/actress Sharon Washington’s entertaining if slender one person play.  Chronicling Washington’s fascinating story of growing up in an apartment in a New York public library, the St. Agnes Library, “Feeding the Dragon” has been given an absolutely stellar production, smoothly directed by Maria Mileaf.  This show originally premiered in 2016 at City Theatre Company in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and the Hartford Stage production is actually a co-production with Primary Stages in New York City.

What truly holds this work together is the radiant talent of Sharon Washington.  This actress/playwright brings so much good will and charm to the stage that one can’t help but be captivated by her presence.  This definitely helps in “Feeding the Dragon,” since, even at a 90 minute running time (with no intermission), Washington’s unique tale of her growing up in a library can tend to dry up a bit after a certain point in the show, with some of the evening feeling almost like padding.

Nonetheless, what “Feeding the Dragon” may lack, at times, in substance, it absolutely glows in showmanship, with Washington’s effortless charisma a definite asset.  Ultimately, “Feeding the Dragon” is worth seeing at Hartford Stage simply because Sharon Washington’s stories are truly one-of-a-kind and this playwright/actress brings so much conviction to her show that one can’t help but hang on her every word.

The title of the show, “Feeding the Dragon,” actually comes from Sharon Washington, as a child, watching her father put coal in the furnace in the basement of the St. Agnes Library, in which he was a custodian.  Along with her mother and father, Washington grew up in the custodial apartment of the library and, as a child, she was literally surrounded by books.  Tony Ferrieri’s sensational scenic design reflects this completely, in that the various levels of the set are held up by rows of novels and there are even card catalogs incorporated into the design on either side of the stage.

Beyond this initial excitement of hearing what it was like to literally grow up in a library, however, Washington’s stories become a little more mundane, though she does do wonderful impersonations of both her parents and her beloved grandmother.  It is nice to hear Washington also talk about coming of age in New York in the 1970s, during the disco era (there are mentioning’s of her even going to Studio 54), but one can’t help feeling that “Feeding the Dragon” is stretched a little thin.

This is where this actress’ dynamism comes in to provide the real spark in the show.  I was lucky enough to catch Sharon Washington’s Broadway debut in the musical, “The Scottsboro Boys,” in which she was seen to stunning effect in a small, but crucial role.  Having the whole stage to herself in “Feeding the Dragon,” this actress certainly makes the most of it and she can go from extremely funny to crushingly moving within the span of a single line.  Indeed, by the conclusion of the play, it is most definitely Washington’s performing expertise that rivets the audience’s attention.

There is still time for this actress/playwright and her director, Maria Mileaf, to refine and change different moments that can sag in “Feeding the Dragon” before it moves to its run Off-Broadway.  Nonetheless, the fascinating facts and details of her life growing up as a child in the St. Agnes Library in New York City do go a long way and, combined with her ebullience, ultimately justify the entire evening.  Sharon Washington is quite a talent and, even if “Feeding the Dragon” at Hartford Stage isn’t perfect, it is still a genuine treat to spend time with her, listening to her tell her story.

“Feeding the Dragon” continues performances at Hartford Stage in Hartford, CT through February 4, 2018.  For tickets, please visit www.harfordstage.org or call the box office at 860-527-5151.

Photo: Sharon Washington

Photo by T. Charles Erickson

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