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Grumpy Old Man

A production about a homeless man leaves the audience cold

Doug Goldman tries to get his point across to Drena Bullock.

By Emma Brodie | Posted 3/3/2010

Man on the Mountain

Written by Percy W. Thomas

Through March 7 at Fells Point Corner Theater.

For centuries, visionaries from the Buddha to Leos Carax have been turning to the homeless for wisdom and inspiration. Man on the Mountain by Percy Thomas is yet another attempt to tout the "beggar" as the under-appreciated oracle of society. Unfortunately, the play doesn't accomplish this goal.

As the lights come up on the stage (designed by Gordon Parks) for the first and only act of the full-length play, garbage heaps, a shopping cart, a makeshift hovel, and a trashcan fire come into view. Amidst a clamor of belching and groaning, we meet the charming and terrifying unnamed homeless man (Doug Goldman) who dwells on this particular slab. No sooner has he established how very happy and satisfied he is with his life, then a young man (Gordon Parks as another nameless character) stumbles in, looking terrified and confused, a gun clutched in his hand. After the old man confronts the young man about "stealing my fire," the two settle in for a night of psychological warfare. Their interactions are interspersed with scenes from both men's pasts featuring prominent female figures from their lives (each played by Drena Bullock). We discover that the old man was at one time a famous musician, cut down in his prime by an attack on his vocal chords and that the young man is an aspiring musician himself. As the two begin to engage on an emotional level, tensions escalate.

Almost every cliche, from the misunderstood musician to the parents who just don't understand to the very graffiti on the walls of the set ("You fugly") somehow finds its way into Man on the Mountain. And the play's supposed messages are conflicting and, on occasion, feel tacked on. At the beginning of the play, it seems that the old man is going to encourage the young one to conquer his own "man on the mountain" (i.e. his ego), which was the cause of the old man's own downfall. By the end, however, the message has morphed into doing what you want no matter what anybody says, seemingly undoing the old man's previous wisdom. This inconsistency makes it appear as though the young man hasn't learned anything and that the old man is as crazy as he looks. Given the benefit of the doubt, the end of the play is a meditation on acts of aggression. However, it feels more like an arbitrary meaning shoved in at the end after a half-hour scene of two actors shouting at one another.

The performances run the gamut. Doug Goldman's performance was the strongest in the show as he really molded into each iteration of his character; his blithering old man alarmingly different from his younger, charismatic incarnation. Gordon Parks (stepping in for the role of the younger man because Vonn Harris twisted his ankle) filled the space adequately, but made his character more of a caricature than a real person. Drena Bullock's performance was so understated it was almost invisible; there were no noticeable differences between the different characters she played except for wardrobe. There are two casts for the play that perform on alternate nights, so I can't speak to the other cast--Denise Laws, Michael Kane, and Kordairo Campbell.

People generally go to the theater for two reasons: to be entertained and/or to learn something. Man on the Mountain doesn't accomplish either, though not for lack of trying. The performance is interesting, but the confused message and the disparities in acting ability leave much to be desired. ?

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