Playwright and performer Sharon Washington spent part of her formative years living in the New York Public Library. In her absorbing and entertaining one-woman show, Feeding the Dragon, she chronicles this magical experience as well as her family’s life within the confines of the repository.
In the early 1970’s she and her family lived in an apartment on the top floor of the St. Agnes branch of the library. Heated by a coal furnace, the structure had to be maintained day and night. A custodian was needed, such as her father, and given the spacious living quarters in exchange for stoking the fire and providing other routine work in the building. When the library closed the young girl had free rein to roam the stacks, explore the interior’s nooks and crannies, and play atop the walled roof of the building.
The talented and ebullient actress does a laudable job connecting with the Hartford Stage patrons and enthralls the audience with her after hours adventures. But her tale is not solely about her personal exploits and hijinks. A good part of the show incorporates her no-nonsense mother, hard-working father and other family relations. Their character’s interactions help round out the performance, providing background and depth to the story.
While Ms. Washington’s portrayals are engaging and her autobiographic memories appealing, Feeding the Dragon lacks a definable dramatic arc that could have made her story more affecting. There are junctures during the performance that could have been exploited for more theatrical moments.
Director Maria Mileaf skillfully paces the show. She is at her best when guiding the performer through her impressions and derring-do. She has the actress utilize all of the inventive set design by Tony Ferrieri, which has steps and risers, composed of colorful book binders, leading to a small stage. Ann Wrightson’s lighting design and Lindsay Jones’ original music and sound design add texture and fullness to the production.
Feeding the Dragon, an enjoyable and winning solo performance.