If someone were to have told me, when watching the original Star Wars films as a child, that one day I would have the distinct pleasure of seeing Carrie Fisher, in person, wear a Leia Cinnabon-hair wig, recite the immortal “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope” speech, and share the stage with a life-size Leia sex doll, I never would have believed it. And today, the evening after seeing Carrie Fisher’s brilliant, introspective, and funny-as-hell one-woman show, Wishful Drinking, I still can’t quite wrap my head around it. There is a certain cognitive disconnect in reconciling the princess from a galaxy far, far away that lives in our collective mind’s eye with the older, wiser, bawdier, and yes (she admits it herself, and proudly, at that), rounder woman on stage before us. Those who only know her from a set of films she starred in when she was in her late teens and early twenties might be taken aback by how much funnier, smarter, and more interesting she is, too.
Having had a taste of Fisher’s acerbic, hard-hitting, and confessional wit from her semi-autobiographical novel, Postcards from the Edge, and the ensuing film version starring Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine, I was prepared for a dishy, adult evening of raw honesty and off-color humor. What I wasn’t quite prepared for is what a force of nature she is–outrageously funny, no-holds-barred, and with impeccable comedic timing and delivery. Not many people would have the bravery to be this candid about their lives, from family secrets to their own addictions, mental illnesses, failed marriages, and more, and even less people would be able to manage it with such a delightfully skewed and hilarious world view.
Tossing glittery confetti on the audience’s heads, walking around the stage in bare feet, wearing comfortable clothing, at times cozying up on a chair with tea and a blanket, Fisher makes her life an open book. She starts the evening by discussing the tabloid-ready story of her good friend, R. Gregory Stevens, who died in her bed, allowing audience members to ask her questions, and answering every single one. She doesn’t shy away from the uncomfortable queries nor does she ignore the funny (in retrospect) aspects of her gay, Republican best friend dying next to her from a oxycontin overdose. At one point, she jokes that if she thought that simply being in bed with her could kill a Republican she’d have invited Dick Cheney over long ago. This story sets the tone for the entire evening. From the outset, we know that Fisher is a survivor (a moniker she herself dislikes but understands) who has been through a great deal of sadness in her life but who has learned to adapt through humor. As she says, it gives her the illusion that she has some level of control over her life and her bipolar disorder. Fisher has the rare gift of being able to be brutally honest, kind, and funny all the same time, without ever coming across as preachy or insincere.
Over the course of the evening, Fisher paints a vivid picture of herself and her family. In one extremely amusing segment she lovingly titles, “Hollywood Inbreeding 101,” she brings out a chalkboard filled with various black-and-white photos of her parents, Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, their mates, and some of their mates’ other mates, to help elucidate the extremely complicated and twisty tale of their multiple marriages and the multiple marriages of their other, short-term spouses. She helps simplify it for the “young folk” by comparing Debbie and Eddie to Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt, and Elizabeth Taylor to Angelina Jolie. She assembles glimpses of an extremely outlandish childhood and yet never blames her parents for her subsequent addiction problems. Her brother, after all, grew up in the same house and never had a problem with drugs or alcohol. ”It’s not what you’re given,” she explains, “but how you take it.”
As far as Star Wars goes, Fisher has a very complex relationship with the films that made her a star. She jokes a great deal about them and makes a few comments that indicate a bit of resentment for how George Lucas has used her image over the years, particularly in some of the more lascivious slave-girl statuettes. And, really, how strange must it be to have your own likeness owned by another person? “Every time I look in a mirror, I have to send Lucas a couple of bucks,” she says. Still, Fisher has a very healthy attitude about the films. She fully acknowledges that no one would be in Studio 54 watching her speak in the first place if it weren’t for Star Wars, and she is just as willing to indulge the fans by, as previously mentioned, donning the Leia hair and reciting choice lines from the film, as she is to mock it a bit, and her own performance, in particular. She even gives a simple explanation for why Leia, in the first film, slips into an English accent in some scenes. It is because she was classically trained in drama at London’s Central School of Speech and Drama, so at times that affectation would creep into her voice.
The training also explains what a tour de force performance she gives here. One may not think that it would be difficult to speak about one’s own life, but to do so with such grace, literary wit, and the finely honed ability to reduce an entire audience to fits of laughter countless times over two and a half glorious hours, is a truly remarkable achievement. Upon entering the theatre, I considered Carrie Fisher smart and funny; now having seen her on stage, I consider her a genius. If the greatest comedy comes from pain, Carrie Fisher’s life is an embarrassment of riches.