Wednesday, October 05, 2011

The "Princess" Diaries: Carrie Fisher Uses the Force of Frankness ...For Good -- Theatre Review: Wishful Drinking

Theatre Review

Wishful Drinking
an autobiographical one-woman show
written by and starring Carrie Fisher
Bank of America Theatre, Chicago
Thru October 16

When I hear the name Carrie Fisher, I instantly think of Princess Leia. In a gold metal bikini bound in chains by Jabba the Hutt.

But in an age where many so-called celebrities are famous just for being famous, it's easy to forget that Fisher has led a rather newsworthy life well beyond that seminal role.

Fisher's candor and considerable humor--much of it self-deprecating--in addressing the highs and lows, including struggles with substance abuse and bipolar disorder, made Wishful Drinking far richer than what one can learn from her Wikipedia entry.

Opening by talking about the 2005 death, in her bed, of Greg Stevens--"he didn't just die in his sleep, but in mine"--a close friend who happened to be a gay Republican, Fisher, herself a hardcore Democrat, went on to discuss her famous family.

She was born to Golden Age Hollywood royalty--Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds--but by age 2 was the child of one of the world's most public divorces. (After Eddie Fisher's best friend, Michael Todd, died in a plane crash, Fisher consoled and then married his widow, Elizabeth Taylor, who happened to be Reynolds' best friend.)

A chalkboard lesson on the multiple marriages of both parents made for one of Wishful Drinking's best segments, but the surprisingly long show--nearly 2-1/2 hours--never suffered from a shortage of compelling topics.

In fact, while Fisher devoted a good chunk of monologue to her iconic role as Leia--including the hairdo, bikini and being immortalized as a Pez dispenser--she well-filled the evening without mention of working with Belushi & Ackroyd in The Blues Brothers, something I would've enjoyed hearing about (and perhaps especially apt in Chicago).

She spoke quite frankly about the mental difficulties that have caused her to be institutionalized and receive regular ECT treatments, and was also rather open about her history of substance abuse (without delving into too much detail about wild times in Hollywood).

While I knew that she was married to Paul Simon for a relatively short time--Wikipedia says one year though she said two--I didn't realize that the marriage came in the middle of a 12-year relationship. On this topic, I especially enjoyed Fisher talking about some of the songs she inspired--"Hearts and Bones," "She Moves On" among them--though she didn't cite the most famous one ("Graceland").

Fisher subsequently had a relationship--and daughter--with a high-powered Hollywood agent (Bryan Lourd) who would wind up leaving her for a homosexual relationship.

Suffice it to say, Fisher has enough material for a rather memorable monologue and--as the author of 5 best-sellers and also a noted script doctor--she knows how to shape a compelling, well-paced narrative.

Sure, a number of her jokes were a bit corny, but how can I complain?

No, I wouldn't hope to see her in a gold metal bikini at this stage, but she looks good for 56, having lost 50 lbs. on Jenny Craig, for whom she now serves as a spokesperson.

And Wishful Drinking isn't quite as good a solo show as 700 Sundays--by Fisher's When Harry Met Sally co-star, Billy Crystal--nor as fulfilling a night of theater as a great play (such as Red) or musical.

But as an interesting memoir, a rather public form of ongoing therapy for its creator and an enjoyable night's entertainment, Carrie Fisher's Wishful Drinking succeeds as a testament to the force...not of celebrity, but of personality, perseverance and plenty of candor.

You should be able to get discount tickets for Wishful Drinking, through HotTix or by using a discount code provided on Carrie Fisher's website (most recently it was GOSSIP but I'm not sure how long this will stay valid). 

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