Faustian bargains

  • by Richard Dodds
  • Tuesday March 29, 2016
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Kevin Rolston plays a variety of characters in the solo show<br><i>Deal with the Dragon</i> that follows two<br>artists and their mysterious patron on a quest for success. Photo: Kenny Yun
Kevin Rolston plays a variety of characters in the solo show
Deal with the Dragon that follows two
artists and their mysterious patron on a quest for success. Photo: Kenny Yun

Whatever may be a good definition for the opposite of linear, other than the reductive "non-linear," a lexicographer might want to use Deal with the Dragon as a helpful example. Where the play starts and where it ends are recognizable as compatible bookends, but the 65-minute journey is almost giddy in its detours. Because the writing in its individual scenes is so evocative, and Kevin Rolston's performance as all the characters so imaginatively detailed, we are happy to set off wherever he and his collaborator-director M. Graham Smith want to take us.

A Best of the Fringe honoree in the 2014 festival, Deal with the Dragon has been further honed and is having its world premiere in ACT's Costume Shop along the mid-Market corridor. While it's not immediately clear that this is going to be a Faustian affair, it's not much of a spoiler to reveal that it is. The ostensible setup in the first scenes involves an aspiring artist, Keegan, and an assistant, Brenn, who is there to help him prepare for a chance at a museum showcase. While Keegan is meekly insecure, the man there to cater to his needs is a mercurial German who can erupt at any moment or be as sweet as honey.

When Brenn receives an unsatisfactory cappuccino, he hammers away at the barista. "Listen to the milk," he says with Teutonic authority. "Can you not hear her scream?" To comfort his childlike charge, he conjures a donut out of thin air and breathes sleep onto the artist with a huff and a puff, but not before telling him a bedside story. It's a long and involved tale about a cursed little boy, and even diverts into the boy's own fairytale creation within the fairytale. The framing story can be alternately light and dark, with a devil-like dragon ending it all on a cruel note meant to be a cautionary tale to Keegan: Don't mess with a fire-breathing benefactor.

But Keegan wants out from his obligation to Brenn, and we see the results of a benefactor scorned. Brenn then turns his attentions to Gandy, who had been Keegan's main competition for the museum's patronage. And now it's time for a swerve into another storytelling journey. Although Gandy is not an alcoholic, he finds himself as a stand-in speaker at an AA meeting. Being a recovering drug and sex addict, he knows the drill and talks about his addictions in both harrowing and hilarious fashions. One of his shared memories is of masturbating in a motel to thoughts of Oliver! villain Bill Sykes " "as you do," he says, as if it is a common fantasy. And when he first heard the slogan "It gets better," he just assumed it was about porn.

Rolston creates a distinct personality with individual idiosyncrasies for each character, and altogether it's a tour de force performance without necessarily crossing into bravura territory. Deal with the Devil offers a strange and meandering story that may not shine many fresh insights into , and while its individual pieces don't necessarily make for a tidy whole, those pieces are almost always able to pull us into each of their little worlds.


Deal with the Devil will run at ACT's Costume Shop through April 16. Tickets are $25, and are available at dealwiththedragon.com.