James Lawrence McKinley

Dan Perlea is homeless onstage in James Lawrence McKinley<i>.</i>

Dan Perlea is homeless onstage in James Lawrence McKinley.

Rated 2.0

Writer-director Malinda Sorci’s 50-minute piece James Lawrence McKinley—part of the Fat Cow Theatre Festival at California Stage—is a one-man, one-act play. There’s also a fair amount of recorded video projected like a silent movie, with recorded pop music as accompaniment.

Performer Dan Perlea gives a haunting performance as McKinley in the present: a homeless man scavenging or dancing on the sidewalk for donations. It’s a solitary life, and the piece emphasizes his isolation—which nears invisibility. Perlea doesn’t talk a lot. Several of the street scenes are nearly wordless. When he does speak, it often sounds more like a prepared soliloquy rather than passing thoughts.

In the video, Perlea also gives us clues about McKinley’s past. We see everyday scenes: brushing teeth, playing soccer and hanging out with friends sipping wine. He apparently worked as a photographer. Still, McKinley remains a pretty elusive figure—in many ways an everyman. In one scene, he tells an invisible audience (on a bus or perhaps a train?) that anybody could fall into his situation, abandoned by friends and relatives.

The piece is “inspired by true events,” which led this viewer to hope he’d learn more about the man. McKinley is more a matter of moods and tableaux, which isn’t necessarily a shortcoming. But one does come away with a sketchy sense of what makes this guy tick and how he landed where he is. Sorci undoubtedly set out to create an enigmatic portrait—and she has. This viewer simply wanted a few more details.