nytheatre.com review by Nat Cassidy
October 8, 2009
I'm not sure whether this will add to or detract from my Geek Quotient (hereafter referred to as GQ, unless somehow, someone got to that abbreviation before me), but I'm probably about equally as big a Star Wars fan as I am a Paul Simon fan. So, the other night, as I sat in the orchestra of the Roundabout's Studio 54 Theatre, I was eager to see not just the woman who brought Princess Leia to life, but the woman who inspired some of Paul Simon's best (and most forlorn) songs. Carrie Fisher: daughter of Debbie "Singin' in the Rain" Reynolds and Eddie "Liz Taylor's Warm Up for Richard Burton" Fisher.
Fisher's one-woman show, Wishful Drinking, runs a little over two hours and whether you are a Star Wars fan, or a Paul Simon fan, or, really, a fan of any other facet of Fisher's life, you're in for an evening of ample interesting material, told with a verve and wit that would be hard to equal anywhere else on or off the Great White Way. Fisher is an absolutely hilarious woman, a marvelous writer, and she has led a life replete with scandal and Hollywood intrigue—in point of fact, the show is being produced at Studio 54 because, she tells us, she only likes to perform in places in which she's already been high.
Initially, my main criticism of Wishful Drinking was that, for an evening so delightfully stuffed with anecdotes and visual gags, it seemed oddly lacking in details. Fisher skips from major event to major event like stones on the water, often with a casual segue a la, "And then I was in Star Wars, and life afterwards was like this." The dots are rarely connected in any sort of narratively cogent way—we never hear how she got the role of Princess Leia, or how she met Paul Simon, or what it was that really made her realize she needed psychiatric help for her bipolar disorder, etc. And the anecdotes themselves more often than not relate what others in her life told or did to her, with very few incriminating particulars in the end. I left the theatre filled with a curiously conflicting sensation, feeling at once closer to the woman onstage, but also sure I had just witnessed an evening full of deflection.
However, to be fair, Fisher fully acknowledges that she's left a lot out—and, towards the end, she gives good reason why (hint: it involves George Lucas's convoluted dialogue). And on top of that, the entire evening's mission statement is to find the humor in the literal and figurative madness that has affected her life since birth, not to dwell on the details in a tell-all expose. So we can forgive her for not giving everything away. The one moment she does offer to go into explicit detail (regarding the relatively recent scandal in which a close, gay, Republican friend was found dead in her bed), she brings up the house lights and puts it to the audience: ask away, she says. If you're really here for just the gory details, now's your chance.
So if you feel at all like you're wanting in minutiae, then, you realize in retrospect that it is because you have just had a conversation with Carrie Fisher as she is, not as she was. She is not necessarily trying to put you in her shoes, but rather to show to you how ridiculous those shoes are. Wikipedia can give you the trivia—she is there to make you laugh. And, I suppose as far as criticisms go, complaining that, after a two-plus-hour one-woman show, I wanted more, dammit, hardly seems like a strike against recommendation.
The show is divided into two halves. The first mainly deals with Fisher's parents, the general incestuousness of Hollywood relationships (don't worry, there are charts), and the absurdities (mainly having to do with merchandising) she encountered in her post-Leia fame. The second half is the stronger of the two, as it really deals with the drama and scandal of Fisher's post-Star Wars life—the drugs, the rehabs, the relationships. It's where we really get a sense of the pain Fisher has dealt with. I must say, Paul Simon fan or no, the most emotionally resonant moment in the entire piece is the brief snippet played from Simon's song "Hearts and Bones," dealing with the couple's divorce (indeed, my favorite moment of the evening was when, after Fisher recited one of Simon's lyrics about her, the woman sitting next to me winced, "Oh, Jesus").
Actually, that is a pretty representative detail of what it's like to see the show: I have never before been in an audience that is so eager to talk back to/at the person on stage. And I don't just mean the moments when Fisher explicitly asks for a response—throughout the show (particularly the first half), there were numerous examples of what can only be described as "preemptive echoing." Fisher would begin to mention the name of, say, a Hollywood starlet and, before the words were out of her lips, you'd hear 50 to 100 voices throughout the house finishing the name with her. It's a testament to the jocular, conversational, intimate environment Fisher creates with her performance.
The ad campaign for Wishful Drinking is all rather centered on the self-deprecating notion of, "Come watch this show and be glad you're not Carrie Fisher." It's a good hook but, in the end, rather disingenuous. Watching such a strong, funny, charming person roll with the punches both life and her own decisions sent her way, it's impossible to come away from the evening not holding Carrie Fisher up as a kind of role model: if we could all deal with our problems with such honesty and humor, the world would be a much better place.