So, when she discusses her parents' bad marriage, her father's infidelity, her mother's subsequent bad marriages, her father's subsequent infidelities ... she conveniently skips past any of the emotional turmoil she must have experienced, preferring instead to look back on events with the eye of her present-day self, who can laugh at the experiences she has safely survived. The same is true of her recounting her own unsuccessful marriages, her drug abuse, her mental breakdown, and her ultimate diagnosis of bipolar disorder. It's all about the comic turn, not the sadness. It is for this reason that it is almost impossible to quote excerpts from the show to convey Fisher's humor. The off-the-cuff, "My father, who shot more speed than he did movies ... " gets a laugh the moment Fisher says it, but on later reflection, deserves more sympathy than yuks.
This isn't to say Fisher isn't funny. She has a dry, deliberate, almost teacher-like delivery, which is particularly effective when she works off-color. Although she often sounds like she's sticking very closely to her prepared script, she never sounds like she's forcing a joke, and she clearly has a natural talent for getting a laugh. "Y'know what's funny about death?" she sets up; then, "I mean, other than nothing."
While her best material comes from putting a comic twist on her past, or an unexpected look at the present, not all of it is up to par. When she refers to Natalie Portman's Star Wars character as "Queen Armadillo," Fisher isn't exactly living up to the modern day Dorothy Parker bar she has set for herself.
The world premiere production looks to still be a work in progress. At the performance reviewed, there were some minor bobbles that were either script inconsistencies or dropped lines. (For example, Fisher states that George Lucas had only three directions he ever gave the actors on the set of Star Wars, but then only tells us two of them.) She also has a cute bit in the first act in which she brings out a blackboard covered with 8 x 10 photos in order to illustrate the "Hollywood inbreeding" in her family history, but her placement of the blackboard isn't perfect and the stage lights reflect off the shiny photographs, making them impossible to see.
At the end of the show, there's a definite desire to give Fisher a standing ovation. Making it through the first fifty years of her life, and coming out the other end stronger and with a great sense of humor, is certainly worthy of applause. But the applause is more for Fisher as survivor, not for Fisher as playwright or performer. Wishful Drinking is a great example of a woman who has truly found that laughter is the best medicine; it just isn't great theatre.
The Geffen Playhouse - Gilbert Cates, Producing Director; Randall Arney, Artistic Director; Stephen Eich, Managing Director - presents Wishful Drinking. Written and Performed by Carrie Fisher. Designed by Daniel Ionazzi; Co-Producer Kim Painter; Production Stage Manager Mary Michele Miner; Assistant Stage Manager Susie Walsh; Directed by Joshua Ravetch.
Wishful Drinking runs at the Geffen Playhouse through December 23, 2006. For information, see www.geffenplayhouse.com.
Photo by Michael Lamont