Wishful Drinking -- Theater Review

If anyone has amassed enough material for a tell-all one-person show, it's Carrie Fisher. In "Wishful Drinking," the actress-writer relates in alternately harrowing and hilarious fashion her pedigree as the offspring of two major show business stars; her addictions to booze and drugs; her failed marriages to singer Paul Simon and Hollywood agent Bryan Lourd, the latter of whom left her for another man; her struggles with bipolar disorder; her best friend's dying in her bed while she was sleeping next to him; and, of course, her iconic role as Princess Leia in the original "Star Wars" trilogy. And that's not even a complete list.

With such books and screenplays as "Postcards From the Edge" and "Surrender the Pink," Fisher has demonstrated an ability to translate her travails into entertaining fiction. This show, adapted from her memoir, makes no attempt to whitewash her biography.

Beginning and ending the proceedings with ironic renditions of "Happy Days are Here Again," Fisher manages to make extreme dysfunction wildly entertaining.

For this Broadway run of a show that premiered three years ago at the Geffen Playhouse before numerous engagements nationally, she even incorporates the venue, Studio 54, to comic effect. "I think I've been here before," she says, pointing out the balcony where people used to have sex and the basement where people ingested illegal substances of all sorts.

She takes pains to make the audience part of the action, inviting questions about the experience of waking up next to a dead person and comically singling out several patrons for particular attention.

She begins the evening with her childhood, saying she was born to "simple folk" and describing her show as a "pathetic bid for the attention I lacked as a newborn." She then brings out a flow chart detailing her complex lineage, pointing out that Eddie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds and Elizabeth Taylor were the Brad Pitt, Jennifer Aniston and Angelina Jolie of their day.

What elevates the proceedings beyond the usual Hollywood confessional, besides the sheer exoticism of her experiences, is Fisher's ability to craft both hilarious one-liners and nearly poetic observations about her life. Describing her ill-fated relationship with Simon, for instance, she says that "things were getting worse faster than we could lower our expectations."

Terrific comic relief is provided in the "Star Wars" segment, for which she dons a Leia wig and brings out a lifesize Princess Leia sex doll (made, rather alarmingly, out of concrete). Her reading of a marriage proposal sent by a rabid fan, followed by an audience poll on whether she should take him up on it, was simultaneously riotous and deeply disturbing.

At 2 1/4 hours, the evening is too much of a good thing, with Fisher's clearly evident vocal strain demonstrating that judicious trimming would have been advisable. But despite its excesses, "Drinking" is terrific fun, sort of like reading dozens of outrageous tabloid-newspaper stories in one sitting while their subject gets to respond to them.

Venue: Studio 54, New York (Through Jan. 3)
Creator-performer: Carrie Fisher
Director: Tony Taccone
Scenic/lighting/projection designer: Alexander V. Nichols