Haven't Seen Library-Set 'Feeding The Dragon?' You're Overdue

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Remember the film Night at the Museum, about the secret life after hours at New York’s Museum of Natural History? Well, imagine Night at the Library and think not of one single evening but an entire childhood of running free among the stacks. That’s the youth of actor Sharon Washington, who literally grew up in a branch of the New York Public Library. Her father was a custodian and her family lived in an apartment on the top floor. Her nighttime playground was the world of books.

That experience is the basis for her solo show, Feeding the Dragon, which plays Hartford Stage Jan. 11-Feb 4 before it moves off-Broadway. (It had its world premiere last fall at Pittsburgh’s City Theatre.)

Was it as fantastic as one might imagine?

“Oh, yes,” she tells me on the phone from her home in New York. “I was the little girl who lived in the library and who had all these magical adventures. Those night-in-the-museum fantasies were my reality and it fueled my imagination.”

“It was my first playground,” says Washington, an only child. “I’d go into the reference section, run down the spiral staircase, go into the librarian’s work room and play with the old library stamps.”

But it’s a more complicated story than just a tale of a fantastical youth.

Washington, who is a grad of the Yale School of Drama from the late ’80s, says the piece is also about the flip side of the fairy tale, “about a slice of New York life that is gone, of a kind of working-class family that I think is missing now. It’s about a certain part of our hard-working urban life with a particular stratum of society.”

The title comes from her father needing to continually feed the coal furnace in the library’s basement. So how does she keep her “dragon” fired?

“I’ve been fortunate to work in so many new plays and work with such great collaborators,” she says. “That keeps my fire going.”