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Wishful Drinking

Carrie Fisher's autobiographical solo show is highly entertaining, but needs more spine. logo
Carrie Fisher in Wishful Drinking
(© Michael Lamont)
The theater darkens, the stage suddenly spills over with small twinkling stars, and from the onstage piano comes a very familiar theme song from a very familiar movie. As the audience bursts into laughter, you just know that everyone is having a collective memory of the film's famous opening crawl, "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…" Then a woman steps on stage, dressed entirely in black, and says brightly, "My name is Carrie Fisher, I'm an alcoholic, and this is a true story."

Despite the title of this world premiere show, Wishful Drinking, the key word here is not "alcoholic" but "story." Fisher's adventures in alcoholism are actually presented as little more than coloring for effect, but they do give her a clever title. If she were just casually chatting with friends about her life and her well-publicized addictions, family, career, and mental health, her rambling stories would be just fine. But, dramatically speaking, that kind of casualness really only works when there is a solid foundation underneath to support it. Fisher's self-written show is a loosely constructed collection of tales that, while very funny and highly entertaining, is missing a spine and needs firm grounding,

The artwork for the show also makes clear one other truth: Fisher's alcoholism isn't the only thing that will be skewered during her two fast-flying hours of crazy life storytelling. The frosty martini glass under the colorful Wishful Drinking logo is adorned with a toothpick that first impales a traditional green olive and then pierces the head of her iconic Star Wars persona, Princess Leia, going straight through her famously ridiculous honey-bunned hair. Fisher holds nothing safe from being poked with a sharp stick just for laughs.

To a large extent, that's exactly what happens in this rather disjointed production, directed by Joshua Ravetch. Fisher takes us on a hopscotch journey across some of the highlights of her life, her anecdotes exhibiting her trademark dry wit and wry observations. There's her celebrity-studded upbringing as the child of superstar parents Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher; their breakup, subsequent multiple marriages, and the hilarious who's-related-to-who? confusion that followed; Fisher's addictions and her diagnosis as a manic/depressive (or the more politically correct term, "bi-polar").

Fisher also details her own messy romances, marriages, and breakups; her affinity for gay men; her testy relationship with Star Wars visionary George Lucas and her behind-the-scenes ordeals during filming; the recent death of a close friend at her home; and more. All of it becomes fair game for pithy remarks about a life lived in outlandish excess on numerous levels. As she acknowledges with deadpan aplomb, "If you think all of this is over-the-top, you can't even imagine what I'm leaving out!"

Indeed, much is left out -- though thanks to television, the tabloids, the Internet and an insatiable public appetite for juicy scandals, what isn't talked about on stage has been thoroughly recounted, scrutinized, and judged from every angle by the media for all of Fisher's 50 years. Still, some of the absent details, such as proper names instead of generic descriptions, would have helped to create a smoother flow and bring a greater sense of cohesiveness to the evening.

Yes, the humor of hangover tales, pill-popping escapades, and off-the-chart family drama is great fun for the audience and for Fisher as well; despite low energy and a careful walk that made her seem to be in pain during the performance under review here, she was still obviously having a good time. But revealing that you've been told you're an alcoholic, for example, packs very little punch unless you also reveal the circumstances of that event and how it affected you.

Fisher is remarkably honest about the chaos in her life, but she keeps that honesty at a fairly superficial, gossipy level. Think of it this way: If Wishful Drinking were a gin and tonic, then what she gives us is mostly the effervescent tonic and not nearly enough of the tastier bite of gin.

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