Writer-performer Sharon Washington knows her childhood—in an apartment inside the St. Agnes branch of the New York Public Library—sounds like a fairy tale. “The Little Girl Who Lived in a Library!” she declares in her engaging, if meandering, one-woman Off Broadway show Feeding the Dragon.
Washington’s library stories—which conjure her “New Yawkah” mother, her South Carolina–born father, and her book-loving Gramma Ma, among others—are the theatrical equivalent of a page-turner. The titular “dragon” is St. Agnes’ ancient, monstrous coal-burning furnace, which her father is responsible for stoking; the fire-breathing behemoth looms large in Washington’s adolescence.
But when Washington (figuratively) leaves the confines of the library—first for an extended stay with her aunt and uncle in Queens, then for a road trip to Charleston, S.C., with her misbehaving father—Feeding the Dragon starts to stray. Even in its slim 90 minutes, Dragon contains the makings of two plays: the first, a library-set coming-of-age story, filled with wacky peanut-butter-smeared anecdotes of Sharon’s pup, Brownie, and touching memories of Sharon learning to braid Gramma Ma’s hair; the second, an earnest, emotional account of her father’s struggle with alcoholism. As it is, Dragon leaves so many questions—about her mother and a closetful of mysterious sparkly clothing, about that mythic apartment—unanswered.
Washington—whose acting credits include Kander and Ebb’s The Scottsboro Boys and Colman Domingo’s Dot and Wild With Happy—is an honest, appealing performer who cultivates an easy, genuine rapport with the audience. As a writer, she simply seems less comfortable in the fairy-tale oeuvre.
Feeding the Dragon opened April 3, 2018, at the Cherry Lane Theatre and runs through April 27. Tickets and information: primarystages.org