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Feeding the Dragon

Theatre Review by Jose SolĂ­s - April 6, 2018


Sharon Washington
Photo by James Leynse

When she was a little girl, Sharon Washington lived in an apartment at the top of the St. Agnes branch of the New York Public Library, where her father was in charge of keeping the ancient, massive furnace alive. Imagining herself as a princess in some sort of enchanted castle, Washington deemed the noisy furnace a dragon, and her recollections of this era inspired her to write her first play Feeding the Dragon, which just opened at the Cherry Lane Theatre in the West Village. A natural born storyteller, Washington's sensitive, graceful recollections make for a lovely experience, but one that would make more sense as an audiobook or a one-on-one conversation, rather than a full on theatrical performance, because as Washington learned growing up, the idea of enchantment can only take you so far.

When Washington first appears onstage, she immediately claims the space as her own, the set by Tony Ferrieri consists of a staircase filled with books, a desk, and large glass windows that reflect the story's mood (the lighting variations range from fiery to evoke the furnace, to multi colored panes straight out of a church, or library). The actress moves across the stage as if she lived there, discreetly pulling out books she wants to reference, or resting in places that seem to materialize out of thin air.

In terms of a one person show Feeding the Dragon, certainly has inventive directorial touches, director Maria Mileaf injects a sense of purpose into empty spaces, so that we too can "see" the staircase and banisters Washington alludes to, but as the narrative tries to find its dramatic arc the play becomes lost in itself. Washington's initial sense of wonder becomes an exhausting exercise in wondering how much longer she can stretch her enchanted castle narrative.

Halfway through the show, Washington talks about her father's alcoholism, when he takes her to the bar across the street from the library, for a quick drink—she orders her first Shirley Temple—the twist seems to come out of nowhere, and as it expands into a tale of a week-long trip she took with him to see family in the South. Perhaps Washington wanted to tell a tale of finding home, but she makes it clear that for her New York was never not home, so this trip to a more idyllic location where the watermelon salesman knows everyone by name, feels disingenuous, as if the playwright was forcing herself to find things to love in order to move her audience.

Washington is such a great actress that she often pulls off the moments that feel trite, after all this is her personal story and one can understand why she'd want to pay tribute to her father without turning him into the kind of larger-than-life alcoholic monster that inhabits some of the great American dramas. With a more focused approach, the tonal shifts in the show would compliment, rather than compete with each other. As it stands, Feeding the Dragon is more of an appetizer than a full meal. If Washington expands her life story into a series of plays that plunge deeper into the complex people that shaped her, perhaps we'll be in for a real banquet.


Feeding the Dragon
Through April 27
Primary Stages @ The Cherry Lane Theatre, 38 Commerce Street
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: OvationTix


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