Surreal, funny, offering a contrary point of view, the Old Man only exists in May and Eddie's minds even though we see and hear him onstage. His presence adds to the heightened dream-like quality of the play. He talks to Eddie and May mostly when only one of them is in the motel room and the other is outside or in the bathroom. Because of this, he acts as an audience and response to the subconscious thoughts of Eddie and May. His conversations with May and Eddie seem to take place on the landscape of their inner thoughts made real on stage. For instance, he speaks to Eddie after Eddie has been tricked by May when she kisses him and then knees him in the groin. He also talks to May when she is crying over Eddie and moving slowly across the walls of the room alone.
The Old Man keeps them company when they are alone and yet haunts them. His presence is a reminder of their complicated past and the shame of their incestuous relationship. His drinking habit is repeated in the aggressive drinking of May and Eddie and his two-timing is repeated in Eddie's poor juggling of his relationship with both May and the Countess. The Old Man offers different points of view on May and Eddie's past and for the most part denies any fault in their present troubled state. He calls Eddie "a fantasist," perhaps a reference to Sam Shepard's father's attitude towards his son's role as a playwright who imagines things for a living and also Eddie's characteristic of being an idealist who imagines a better future for himself and is possible of believing in his own illusions.
The Old Man believes in illusions himself and that trait is repeated in May and Eddie. When he was younger, the Old Man convinced himself he could balance two lives without consequences. Now he believes that the unattainable woman of his dreams, Barbara Mandrell a picture in his imagination, is his wife. That is the perfect solution for the Old Man, to be content with a pretty fictional life that is pleasing to the imagination and impossible to hold on to for long.