Review: "Feeding the Dragon" at Hartford Stage

Tara Kennedy 

  • OnStage Chief Connecticut Theatre Critic / Connecticut Critics Circle

As a little girl, I was entranced by the book (and film), From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. The story is about two suburban kids, Claudia and Jamie, who decide to run away and live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I thought it was a brilliant plan: living amongst the relics and artistry of ancient civilizations. Imagine my joy in hearing about Sharon Washington’s Feeding the Dragon, a solo work about “the little girl who lived in the library.” I knew about the apartments at the New York Public Library (I have friends on the inside), so I was excited to hear a first-hand account of someone who lived in one of these spaces.

It’s a series of vignettes tied together about the Black experience growing up in New York City in the early 1970s, with a trip down south to Charleston, South Carolina thrown in for good measure. Ms. Washington brings her family and friends to life through her portrayals, using a variety of accents and physical manifestations.  Ms. Washington brings humor and levity to her tales as narrator and through her characters.  I found the stories to be interesting and enjoyable but was hoping for a narrative that was more compelling. I believe that the issue wasn’t the story, but Ms. Washington’s delivery. While her performance was good, it wasn’t convincing entirely, and that made the show less engaging for me.

However, I really liked the scenic design by Tony Ferrieri and lighting design by Ann Wrightson, which brought much of this tale to life: the bracketed, lead-soldered windows that I recognize from older libraries; the square panes were used to apply color to the scenes. I adored the colors demonstrating the coming storm in Uncle Gene’s painting and stoking fire in the library’s basement furnace. The books lined up on the under-stairs shelving of the stage platforms were a nice touch.

However, one thing drove me crazy the entire show: There was one book shelved upside-down on the stage. I really wanted to go on stage and fix it; alas one of the ushers stood guard at the end of the show, preventing me from righting the wrong. Maybe that upside-down book is symbolic of my experience with this show: just one thing being slightly off can be sufficient to detract from the overall experience.

Photo: Sharon Washington (T. Charles Erickson)