“I consumed massive amounts of opiates religiously.” “Having waited my entire life to get an award for something … anything … I now get awards all the time for being mentally ill.” “There’s no underwear in space.” Any of these zingers from Carrie Fisher’s winning one woman show Wishful Drinking could serve as wholly appropriate tag lines for her zany account of her struggles with fame, tempestuous family life, and the twin beasts of addiction and mental illness.
The daughter of pop singer Eddie Fisher and movie star Debbie Reynolds, Fisher grew up in the reflected glare of the spotlight, with all the perks and pitfalls that that entails. For the bulk of the first act, she describes her home life in all its dysfunctional glory with the aid of clever video and audio montage. In the production’s funniest and most polished segment, Fisher examines “Hollywood Incest 101”, utilizing a detailed blackboard diagram to map out her ridiculous family tree. Her parents’ various dalliances and multiple marriages provide fertile ground for Fisher’s acerbic wit.
Fisher’s own relationship history and personal struggles dominate the second act, wherein she often substitutes hazy introspection for the brisk comedy of the first act. It also marks the beginning of a heavier reliance on the teleprompter, which proves increasingly disruptive as the act unfolds. Fisher expounds on her lengthy up and down romance with Paul Simon, which can best be summed up by the Simon lyric, “My heart is allergic/to the women that I love.” Her failed second marriage to a casting agent brings the blessing of a daughter, followed by a harrowing period in a mental institution. Fisher remains charmingly self deprecating and perspicacious throughout, owning up to her personal issues rather than pointing fingers.
No chronicle of Carrie Fisher’s life would be complete without at least a few “Star Wars” references. Throughout both acts, Fisher peppers in anecdotes detailing surreal experiences surrounding her breakout role as Princess Leia. The aforementioned line, “There’s no underwear in space,” sprung from the mouth of a stone-faced George Lucas when Fisher requested the use of a bra under her flowing white costume. Things only became stranger for Fisher as her star rose and her face suddenly popped up on countless lunchboxes, dolls, and even her own Pez dispenser. As she proceeds, she offers a hilarious, clear eyed account of the double edged sword of fame, recognizing her celebrity as equal parts blessing and curse.
Fisher’s frank discussion of her bipolar disorder and history of addiction is commendable and remarkably lucid, given her sordid past. She admits that in the wake of many ECT (or shock) treatments, her memory is not what it used to be, which partially excuses the series of momentary lapses and forgotten details. However, there were several times toward the end of the production when Ms. Fisher stood staring perplexedly at the teleprompter for several seconds, while the audience sat in awkward silence. She will need to tighten up the second act as the run progresses in order to keep the good times rolling, which shouldn’t be difficult given the sheer number of performances she has delivered since the show’s debut in 2006.
At its best, Wishful Drinking offers a refreshingly honest tour through the darkest and funniest corners of celebrity, with Fisher serving as the audience’s sarcastic, knowing guide. Framed by comfortable leather couches and funky decor, including various pieces of Star Wars memorabilia, Fisher exudes an approachable and easygoing charm. She’s your favorite aunt gossiping at Thanksgiving. She’s an old friend swapping stories at the bar long after last call.
Like an emcee hosting her own roast, Fisher reaches out to the audience, involving them in every joke at her expense and explaining herself where she feels it necessary. At one point, in the midst of trying in vain to explain her tangled web of step parents and half siblings, she stops to give an audience member a medal for surviving her own divorce. Fisher’s greatest strength as a performer is her ability to candidly examine all the emotional potholes in her life and simply laugh at the pockmarked road stretching out behind her.
By Carrie Fisher
Original Broadway Direction by Tony Taccone
Produced by Leonard Soloway
Co-produced by Garret Edington
Reviewed by Ben Demers
Runtime: 2 hours, 15 minutes (One 15 minute intermission)
Before making its Broadway run, Wishful Drinking was presented here by Arena Stage. Here’s our review from 2008.