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    Critically Acclaimed Deal with the Dragon Is More Provocative Now Than Ever

    Kevin Rolston creates a complex world—dark, funny, and completely unpredictable—in Deal with the Dragon, a genuine tour de force. As the title suggests, Rolston’s play is the result of his own journey to face his desires and demons, discovering in the process that these lurk within each and every one of us.

    Hailed as “truly bravura” by Edinburgh Guide, audiences are in for a thrill ride in the meticulously written and artfully performed production. “Deal with the Dragon gave me more after-the-fact pleasure than any other play this year,” declared KQED Arts’ John Wilkins. “This show burrowed into my mind.” Named one of six “singular and brilliant theater pieces” of 2016 by KQED Arts, Rolston’s free-wheeling fantasy is an invitation into a strangely captivating, thought-provoking realm that will surely get under the audience’s skin. SF Weekly described Rolston’s gripping performance as “infused with razor blades that have been soaked in honey.”

    Rolston transforms into three intriguing characters in Deal with the Dragon: Hunter, an insecure artist desperate to land a gallery show at a prestigious museum; Brenn, the acolyte who will stop at nothing to protect the artist’s process; and Gandy, a flamboyant rival competing for the same museum slot. Rolston shape-shifts between the captivating personalities in a rollicking back and forth sharply directed by (and developed with) M. Graham Smith. From sardonic tirades by Gandy to Brenn’s ominous inner monologues, Rolston’s sublime acting unfurls a cunning grown-up fairytale laced with terror in Deal with the Dragon.

    Deftly staged and exquisitely acted, Deal with the Dragonwas selected as one of the top 20 theater shows—out of 900—to see at the 2016 Edinburgh Fringe. “The play, in some sense, was inspired by this book I read,” says Rolston. He’s referring to an empowering book that has changed the public discourse on gay culture, clinical psychologist Alan Downs’ The Velvet Rage.

    “It’s all about the rage that comes from shame,” he explains.

    In the book, Downs outlines the stages of a gay man’s journey out of shame, offering practical advice and strategies to halt the cycle of avoidance and self-defeating behavior. When Rolston first started writing the play and performing it, he says, “I was writing it for gay men of a certain age or older. What was delightful is that I got surprised. It’s not that narrow. Turns out everyone can identify with self-defeating behavior.”

    Rolston has also received critical acclaim for his previous plays, which include Crystal Christian—about the hypocrisy of loud-mouthed homophobes—and This Many People, which covered the lives of Bay Area LGBTQ+ senior citizens and premiered as part of the 2010 Queer Arts Festival.

    Kevin says he gathered the courage to look at his own demons after writing these first two plays.

    “My first play was about a Ted Haggard archetype—one of those homophobic, hatred-spewing preachers who then gets caught with a gay hooker,” he explains. “This was when I was doing a play down on the central coast, and I was not accustomed to being around such a conservative area.” When Rolston was driving home, he would listen to a radio station that encouraged youth to call in and confess their struggles with their sexual identity, only for the host to refer them to Exodus International, a Christian ex-gay organization. “I started writing out of resentment and rage,” Rolston says.

    At a workshop production of Crystal Christian, he was told it was clear that he hated his protagonist. Though he was advised to revise his show, Rolston felt he just couldn’t have compassion for that kind of person, and he wanted audiences to have an outlet for the same kind of anger he had. He kept the play as it was—then turned to a heartwarming community project with senior citizens from the Bay Area for his second play. “It was amazing,” he says. “I got to go around and gather the oral histories of all these LGBTQ+ senior citizens, and then we wove a show together. In a way, that process is what led me to do this play. Like ‘okay, I’m ready to go inside and look at my own demons.’”

    Revised from previous outings, Deal with the Dragonwill enjoy a limited run July 22–August 13, 2022 at the Magic Theatre (Fort Mason Center, 2 Marina Boulevard, Building D, San Francisco). For tickets ($20–$70) and more information, call 415-441-8822 or go to

    Published on July 14, 2022