“Everybody’s got a story / Of all their troubles, all their glories / Tell me yours, you cannot bore me / I love to listen to you.” – Ellis Paul
. . .a remarkable experience that you will remember and still talk about several years from now.
Have you ever been on a long journey sitting with a stranger who was so interesting and eloquent that you felt a sense of regret when the journey came to an end? The time passed so easily and pleasurably that you wished it was the beginning of a wonderful new friendship, rather than a farewell. This is what it is like to spend time with Sharon Washington as she performs “Feeding the Dragon” for you.
“Feeding the Dragon” is an autobiographical one woman play written by and starring Sharron Washington. It is a childhood memoir, a love story, and a slice of American history. The fabric of the play consists of an artfully woven tale of the love for family, community, and literature. This play immerses the audience into the atmosphere of New York City during the 1960s through a series of vignettes encompassing the early experiences of Sharron Washington’s life.
Using only her voice, the stage, some lighting, a little background music, a stool, and some books, Sharon captivates her audience for a full 90 minutes without an awkward moment. Her raw, honest connection and level of comfort with revealing the story of her formative years, creates the illusion that we are sharing a personal journey together. It was clear Sharon was an exceptionally talented person, even at a young age in second grade. The public school vice principal recommended that her parents move her to Dalton, an exclusive private academy on the other side of town. A Yale graduate and successful actress, Sharon Washington fulfills her potential and takes her career to another place with her debut as a playwright.
As Mark Twain said, “The truth is stranger than fiction” and Sharon certainly had an uncommon childhood. Her family home was a three bedroom apartment within a New York City public library. Her father “King,” worked as the library custodian and was obliged to keep the coal furnace basement Dragon stoked 24/7. After hours, the library was Sharon’s playroom and her gateway into another world. One can’t help but wonder at the serendipity for a gifted person such as Sharon to end up literally living in a library. But perhaps it was intentional, perhaps her mother knew Sharon needed more, after all she did manage to arrange for a grand piano to be installed in the top level apartment with no elevator. As the performance progresses we get to know Sharon’s parents, relatives, and neighbors. She flawlessly switches characters, fully personifying each of these individuals, flowing easily as her story unfolds. This play is analogous to a beautiful abstract painting of a home movie. Somehow Sharon has stripped down her entire childhood to only the bare essentials; the funniest, most tender, happiest, and saddest moments are all present. A most marvelous storyteller, Sharon moves her audience to feel all of these emotions in a wonderfully cathartic performance.
Sometimes “less is more” and this is certainly the case with the lighting, sound and set design for “Feeding the Dragon.” Blocks of varying colored lights are skillfully used as the stage backdrop. Through these lights, the audience senses the heat from the furnace, the magic of a summer evening on a New York rooftop, and the despair of a character’s dark side. Stacks of books are smartly arranged into bookshelves that also function as steps from the library up to the apartment. The lighting of these bookshelf steps is simple yet fairy-tale like. Due to the personal nature of the show, at times I wondered if Sharon was adlibbing, but if you pay close attention to the sound and lighting effects, you will realize that ““Feeding the Dragon” is an astonishing feat of precise memorization.
“Feeding the Dragon” is such a remarkable experience that you will remember and still talk about several years from now. Don’t miss out on your chance to be one of the privileged few to witness Sharon Washington in this spectacular performance. Staged in an intimate black box theatre, with room for only 110, every seat is a good one.
Running Time: 90 minutes without intermission.
“Feeding the Dragon” runs until November 20, 2016 at City Theatre, in Pittsburgh. For more information, click here.