Monday, January 11, 2010


So, not long after the review below was published in the NY Times Lil Lady (aka stacey) and I went to Manhattan to see this play. I remember I had read a small piece in the New Yorker on a play about Elvis at the Joesph Papps Public Theater. It was part of a program where actors who had studied their craft at the Joesph Papps Public Theater returned and did a show of their own. Kind of an actor in residence program.

We saw a play named "HIM".  Christopher Walken wrote and starred in HIM. We were lucky to see it as it played for a very short time.  I remember I read a small blurb in the New Yorker and I remember it was about a dead Elvis and I remember I wanted to see it. I called for tickets, this was 1995 and I wasn't on the internet. I called the theater and they said sorry, sold out.  The nice lady selling tickets told me that maybe they would add a show, but I had to call back. Beleive it or not one day not long after that I called back and another show had been added. I ordered two tickets, Stacey and I went and saw the show that is reviewed below.  After all these years the review sounds a lot like I remember the play was.

THEATER REVIEW: HIM; Walken Conjures Up The King


Published: January 6, 1995, Friday

The place is limbo, the time an unspecified present. At the start of "Him," Christopher Walken's woozily conceived, fantastical new play, Elvis Presley (Mr. Walken), identified as Him in the program, looks rather more trim than when he left us more than 17 years ago as a bloated wreck of a man, dependent on chemicals and disconnected from the reality of day.

He wears an understated Las Vegas jumpsuit and cape of what seems to be green velvet, cut full, though he no longer has a belly to hide. He's surprisingly healthy, and he's definitely fed up. He's furious with Bro (Rob Campbell), his runty twin brother, who was still-born all those years ago and whom he now accuses of feeding on his "oceanic public memory." It's Bro, he says, who's responsible for the trashy stories of Elvis sightings that litter the supermarket tabloids. "It's just fun," says Bro. "They want you to come back."
According to "Him," he may well be here.

As the Elvis legend calls the faithful to his Graceland shrine in Memphis, it has called Mr. Walken to write and star in this jocular contemplation of mythomania, presented in the style of the theater of the absurd. "Him," which I saw at a Tuesday preview, opened officially last night at the LuEsther Hall of the Joseph Papp Public Theater. If you want to see "Him," however, you'll have to put on your name-brand running shoes: it closes Sunday night. This is not the critics' fault. The play, which has the look and sound of a work in progress, has been in public previews since Dec. 13.

Presented without an intermission, "Him" begins with a certain amount of dizzy promise and ends, approximately 75 minutes later, with the only sequence in the play that comes close to realizing it. In between, "Him" is cluttered with murky thoughts expressed in windy speeches, illustrated by anecdotes that have no point, though the general idea seems not to be a foolish one.

When he died in 1977 or, as "Him" suggests, when he engineered his own disappearance, Elvis had become an absurd figure in an absurd world made in the image of Las Vegas. Here was someone overwhelmed by time and drugs. Though surrounded by adoration, he was isolated and alone, dogged by the fame that forced him to have his teeth cleaned at 4 A.M. Absurd, indeed, is any such god who has no other god but him.

Though the play's running time is short, "Him" often seems longer than both parts of "Angels in America." As directed by Jim Simpson on Kyle Chepulis's handsomely spare platform set, it's a succession of takes on fame, innocence and emotional befuddlement, written and staged as burlesque sketches. When Elvis recalls the day of his death from what was officially listed as cardiac arrhythmia, he listens appalled as the doctors make the decision to pull the plug on him. Says the nurse: "We're dealing with someone who's brain-damaged to some extent." Says Elvis: "I could live with that," but the plug is pulled anyway.

There's an utterly mysterious sequence as four actors in their underwear stand by his grave and mourn. There's also a variation on the gravedigger scene from "Hamlet." A reporter from Vanity Fair arrives to interview Elvis and accuse him of song theft. His taxman reports that he's making more money dead than alive. A disappointed fan describes one of Elvis's grotesque final appearances in Las Vegas. At one point, a fat, larger-than-life-size, sponge-rubber likeness of the late-period Elvis is tossed around the stage. Through it all, Elvis himself offers lengthy and opaque commentaries, with incidental music supplied by Organ Donor, a four-member rock combo seated in a small pit to the back and left of the playing platform.

Never has any fully clothed actor looked as naked on the stage as Mr. Walken does in "Him." He appears to be enjoying himself immensely, but the performance also seems uncharacteristically edgy, full of awkward movements and transitions, sometimes almost embarrassing. There's none of Elvis's own intuitive grace, nor of Mr. Walken's. He both plays the role and stands outside it, speaking in a Southern drawl that recalls Tennessee Williams's while every now and then sending up the accent by saying "thang" for "thing." Though it's clear that he's made the decision not to do an Elvis impersonation, it's not easy to identify what he is doing, possibly because the lines he's written for himself are so full of wooly generalizations. Sample: "Chaos is the mamma and poppa of all things."

As Mr. Walken briefly sings in his own -- not Elvis's -- manner, the music, composed as well as played by Organ Donor, evokes a sound that, while it has its roots in 1950's rock-and-roll, is completely contemporary. A wise decision.

Mr. Walken's most cheering and refreshingly absurd invention: Elvis did not die on that 1977 August afternoon in a Memphis hospital. Instead, he plotted his disappearance and transportation to a clinic in Morocco. There he underwent hormone treatments as the first steps toward his rebirth as a woman. All this is introduced by Mel (Barton Heyman), a garrulous old truckdriver who first noticed the resemblance between a diner waitress and the late King of Rock.

Though Elvis's transformation was not surgically complete, Mel reports that he first felt sympathy for the former star, then the stirrings of carnal desire. In burlesque drag as Her, Mr. Walken is a hoot, especially when he thinks about the old days, missing his daughter, Lisa Marie, and her new husband, Michael. He's tempted to reveal himself to the world, but he's concerned by how his "fans would react to the drastic changes I've undergone." He says, "From now on, I want to be plain old me."

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