Off Broadway Reviews
When Washington first appears onstage, she immediately claims the space as her own, the set by Tony Ferrieri consists of a staircase filled with books, a desk, and large glass windows that reflect the story's mood (the lighting variations range from fiery to evoke the furnace, to multi colored panes straight out of a church, or library). The actress moves across the stage as if she lived there, discreetly pulling out books she wants to reference, or resting in places that seem to materialize out of thin air.
In terms of a one person show Feeding the Dragon, certainly has inventive directorial touches, director Maria Mileaf injects a sense of purpose into empty spaces, so that we too can "see" the staircase and banisters Washington alludes to, but as the narrative tries to find its dramatic arc the play becomes lost in itself. Washington's initial sense of wonder becomes an exhausting exercise in wondering how much longer she can stretch her enchanted castle narrative.
Halfway through the show, Washington talks about her father's alcoholism, when he takes her to the bar across the street from the library, for a quick drinkshe orders her first Shirley Templethe twist seems to come out of nowhere, and as it expands into a tale of a week-long trip she took with him to see family in the South. Perhaps Washington wanted to tell a tale of finding home, but she makes it clear that for her New York was never not home, so this trip to a more idyllic location where the watermelon salesman knows everyone by name, feels disingenuous, as if the playwright was forcing herself to find things to love in order to move her audience.
Washington is such a great actress that she often pulls off the moments that feel trite, after all this is her personal story and one can understand why she'd want to pay tribute to her father without turning him into the kind of larger-than-life alcoholic monster that inhabits some of the great American dramas. With a more focused approach, the tonal shifts in the show would compliment, rather than compete with each other. As it stands, Feeding the Dragon is more of an appetizer than a full meal. If Washington expands her life story into a series of plays that plunge deeper into the complex people that shaped her, perhaps we'll be in for a real banquet.
Feeding the Dragon