Sunday, October 4, 2009

Wishful Drinking

Carrie Fisher

Ah, nothing like the funny (as in both “ha-ha” and “peculiar”) stories of dysfunctional families! Especially when they are someone else’s stories and someone else’s dysfunctional family. Even more so, when the stories are laced with insider tales from the ultimate La La Land of Hollywood.

Thus we have Wishful Drinking, the one-woman show created and performed by Carrie Fisher, sometime actress, writer of novels, screenplays, and memoirs (including one with the same title as the show), ex-wife of legendary singer-songwriter Paul Simon, and daughter of the even more legendary actress Debbie Reynolds and singer Eddie (“Oh My Papa“) Fisher. Lots of stories here, shared with great élan by someone who has made a career of telling them.

“Wishful Drinking” is basically critic-proof. It is the kind of show that will appeal to those who would intentionally seek it out. If you don’t know who Debbie Reynolds, Eddie Fisher, Elizabeth Taylor, and Connie Stevens are—and if Queen Padmé means more to you than Princess Leia—then you probably should stay away; if you want to see something from your parents’ generation, stick with Hair.

Also don't go expecting to see acid-laced humor flung at Hollywood’s elites. Wishful Drinking is not Mommy Dearest, and Debbie Reynolds, while she may be a tad overbearing, is not Joan Crawford. Based on what Ms. Fisher shares with us, she and her mother have a good relationship; indeed, they live next door to one another. Most of the digs at Mom have to do with Ms. Reynolds’s poor choices in spouses and financial advisors (sometimes they were one and the same), and the somewhat off-the-wall bits of mother-to-daughter advice that Ms. Reynolds dispenses freely.

Whatever real resentment there is that may underpin Wishful Drinking comes out when Ms. Fisher speaks of her father, whom she paints as a notorious womanizer who left her mother for his friend Mike Todd’s grieving widow, Elizabeth Taylor, ending Debbie and Eddie’s brief reign as “America’s Sweethearts.”

While there is some rambling to the storytelling, there are at least two longer amusing set pieces that are audience pleasers (and Ms. Fisher, flinging confetti, and giving out hugs, kisses and gifts at various intervals, does seem to want to please her audience). 

One piece is a riff on what it is like to be identified forever as Princess Leia, her iconic role in the original “Star Wars” movie trilogy: “[Director] George Lucas owns my image; every time I look in the mirror, I owe him money.” 

The second piece was born from an attempt by Ms. Fisher to explain to her daughter Billie why it wouldn’t be incest if she dated the grandson of Elizabeth Taylor—a convoluted tale that takes a photo-covered blackboard, a pointer, and many minutes to unfold. 

If there is anything missing among the amusing anecdotes, it is an element of what is suggested by the title. There is precious little about Ms. Fisher’s bouts of drinking, drug use, and her bipolar disorder. For Broadway’s insights into that, you’ll have to see “Next To Normal.” Ms. Fisher would rather thank “all 12 of my shrinks,” sing “Happy Days Are Here Again,” and let it go at that.

All in all, “Wishful Drinking” offers an enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours—provided you understand that what you are in for is a celebrity chat and not an evening of Strindberg. I only mention this because I am about to head out to see the production of “After Miss Julie,” a new take on the Strindberg play. I’ll tell you all about it in the next day or two.

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