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Christopher Walken Plays Elvis Off-Broadway in ‘Him’

January 5, 1995 GMT

NEW YORK (AP) _ ``Must we do this in front of people?″ asks an actor playing Elvis Presley’s stillborn twin brother in ``Him,″ Christopher Walken’s self-indulgent doodle about the death of the king of rock ‘n’ roll.

It’s a good question. And one most theatergoers sitting through the play will answer with a shell-shocked ``No.″

Even the intriguing idea of Walken impersonating Presley quickly pales during the course of this meandering meditation on tabloid fascination with the man.

Walken the playwright does away with plot, character and structure in the telling of his tedious tale, which opened Thursday off-Broadway at the Joseph Papp Public Theater. What’s left is a mess _ incoherent musings on fame, celebrity and the price of success.

Walken the actor is easier to take, although he doesn’t really look like the bloated singer who died in 1977 at the age of 42. The thin performer, whose jet-black hair has been shaped into a modified Prince Valiant cut, is much more cadaverous. He is a vampire-like Presley who stalks and sulks his way around the stage.

Walken does a fair imitation of Presley’s accent, but never really attempts to sing like the King. There are a couple of false starts that suggest the actor could have made a game try at the songs.

``Him″ lurches from incident to incident with the help of five other performers, most of them playing multiple roles, and an on-stage band that looks embarrassed by its proximity to the dramatic proceedings.

Director Jim Simpson doesn’t make much sense out of the play. The action is accompanied by such pretentious distractions as television screens simultaneously showing the action, a phony breaking down of the fourth wall between the play and the audience and a loud, undistinguished musical soundtrack.

Let’s see if we can summarize what passes for a plot.

After his death, Presley has somehow found himself in limbo. Among its inhabitants: a two-man Greek chorus of Presley imitators who would be laughed out of the lounge of any cut-rate motel; a go-for-the jugular magazine interviewer with a breathy, insincere voice, and a mad-hatter doctor who worked on Presley in a vain attempt to revive him after his demise.

Only Rob Campbell, who plays Presley’s dead twin, transcends the meager material. He makes a pretty good stab at the superstar’s singing voice, too, doing it better than Walken.

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The evening’s most bizarre incident also ends the play. In it, Presley is alive and well, having undergone a partial sex-change operation and found employment as a waitress in a greasy spoon. Walken in drag, dressed in a black wig covered in a hairnet, a salmon-color uniform, black socks and heels no experienced waitress would ever even consider wearing, looks embarrassed. It’s quite a sight.

``All I ever wanted was to be noticed,″ says Presley near the beginning of the evening, which last less than 90 minutes but seems much, much longer.

Pity the poor man. Even if he were alive, the kind of notoriety he gets in ``Him″ would do him in.