At Hartford Stage, a journey that is, at once, personal and resonant

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HARTFORD, Conn. — Sharon Washington has a story to tell and she tells it with style, grace, wit and elegance in her autobiographical solo show, "Feeding the Dragon," which is wrapping up its run at Hartford Stage this weekend.

The dragon in immediate question is the monstrous fire-breathing, coal-consuming furnace in the basement of the St. Agnes branch of the New York Public Library, where Sharon's father worked as a maintenance man. She and her family lived in a custodial apartment on the top floor behind the walls of the library itself which, after hours, often served as a playground for the young Sharon and her friends, one in particular with whom Sharon — in one of "Feeding the Dragon's" more beguiling moments — often acted out death scenes from movies and stories.

It was the 1970s and the building on Amsterdam Avenue was not simply a sanctuary and home for Sharon, it was the gateway to her future. In stoking the furnace from the towering mountain of coal in the furnace room, Sharon's dad also was stoking his daughter's imagination, her future.

Sharon imagined the furnace as a fearsome dragon; a figure that fueled her imagination and liberated her in the process. For her father, the furnace was a figure of enslavement; a demon god that needed to be served to keep both the building and the family alive and functioning.

Washington's writing is crisp, vivid, rich in physical and emotional detail. Her memory is alive with incident and she is in full command of her stage skills, particularly when she becomes her mother, whom she describes as a tough, "no-nonsense, get-it-done" person.

She credits her Grandma Ma for her love of books and storytelling; her public school principal for recognizing her gifts and moving to get the young Sharon into the Dalton School, an exclusive progressive day school in New York City, on scholarship. With the benefit of hindsight and adult perspective, Washington comes to terms with her father's high-functioning alcoholism, even as he engaged in a fitful battle with his own dragon.

Until her story bogs down near the end with an account of a road trip with her father to Charleston, S.C., Washington's narrative moves along as nimbly as her performance. Her summation has a faint echo of artifice that is at odds with the natural-seeming temperament of what's come before. Still, buoyed not only by her own disarmingly applied skills but also Ann Wrightson's atmospheric lighting and Lindsay Jones' original music and sound design, Washington takes us on a journey that is at once personal and resonant.

Jeffrey Borak can be reached at jborak@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6212




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