Credit Carrie Fisher with giving her bumpy childhood and thrill-ride years as an adult a comedic and cogent form. Via generally hilarious anecdotes about her addiction and celebrity — eccentric yet somehow a-OK by Hollywood standards — Fisher spells out her life in “Wishful Drinking” without ascribing blame or, dare we say it, crying in her cocktail glass.
She takes the aud from her birth to two matinee-idol parents, Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, up through “Star Wars” in the first act and then wades into her mental illness, addictions and ill-fated romances in the second. Contrary to the title, however, this is a play about Carrie Fisher, the girl who played Princess Leia, married Paul Simon, wrote books and talked freely about her psychological problems with the media; boozing is hardly mentioned, though whenever she can throw in a line about her appetite for drugs, she does so.
The show, she explains, “is a pathetic attempt to make up for the lack of attention at my birth.” Seems Eddie fainted during delivery and all the nurses were helping him while she was entering the world. In the first act, which goes deep into her teen years, she certainly makes that point.
This is very much a Hollywood insider piece in the early going. Fisher affirms her place among Hollywood royalty with a fabulous photo diagram of her parents, their relationships and offspring — all in the hopes of clarifying for her teen daughter and Elizabeth Taylor’s grandson an answer about whether they share bloodlines. (Answer’s no, but it’s spooky how close it gets.) As Fisher explains: “You’re related by scandal.”
Fisher isn’t naming names beyond Eddie’s drug habits, her life with Simon, two bizarre interactions with Bob Dylan and the peccadilloes of mom, dad and her “blue blood, white trash” Texan grandmother.
“I’m Carrie Fisher and I’m an alcoholic — and this is a true story,” she says to open “Wishful Drinking” after singing “Happy Days are Here Again.” Show opens — and closes –a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, and it’s probably the easiest thing in the show for her to laugh about. The Princess Leia hair, George Lucas’ lack of emotion, Fisher’s desire to have an affair while making “Star Wars,” the fan mail — that’s the light stuff to help break up the dark humor that permeates the piece.
She gives her definition of comedy — a twist on the old “tragedy plus time” formula — and ventures into a true-life event: Her gay, Republican, drug-abusing friend died in her bed. It’s the play’s one section that feels untethered to well-planned text.
Fisher uses the anecdote’s timeliness to improvise, generating some knowing laughs, but it’s a struggle; for all the honesty that goes into this work, it’s about Fisher spilling the beans about her life, not drawing parallels with others. She should stick to a script that obeys the rules about tragedy and time.
Act two, in which she brings out an easy chair to sit beside the one set piece, a tree, is non-Hollywood Carrie. Her mental hospital stays, her rehab stints, her manic depression. The jokes cascade — her idea of “Bi-Polar Pride Day,” how she contracted mental illness from Whitney Houston’s toilet seat, witticisms about biting words like resentment.
Collectively, though, Fisher is not quite ready to bare her soul about demons and psychological struggles. There’s a gold mine of very funny material on the surface and, content with laughs, Fisher finds no real reason to go deeper.
In her tales of being a child of Hollywood, the absence of the ordinary is a keenly interwoven subtext. “We had three pools, just in case two of them broke,” she speculates about one of her childhood homes.
When it comes to mental illness, it’s far easier to deflect: That she is used as a case study in a psychology textbook isn’t the start of a penetrating story, it’s the set-up for a “Star Wars” joke. And a pretty good one at that.
Fisher, dressed in black with silver sparkles in her red hair, mostly paces the stage, occasionally addressing patrons in the first few rows. She stumbles in places and willfully admits drugs have cut into her ability to remember names and parts of the monologue.
Is this her therapy or part of her recovery? She doesn’t say. And she doesn’t ask for help either, or bemoan the absence of romance in her life. This is Carrie Fisher saying she’s going to be OK — even if she did snort coke with her dad.