"Wishful Drinking" Review - How A Long Time Ago In A Galaxy Far, Far Away, George Lucas Ruined My Life

Somewhere in between railing against her Pez dispenser likeness and divorcing Paul Simon, Carrie Fisher developed a pretty frickin hysterical sense of humor.  Wishful Drinking, Carrie Fisher’s latest attempt to be known for something, anything, other than the international smash hit phenomenon and merchandising opportunity (and my favorite film as a kid)—Star Wars—opened its Chicago run at the Bank of America Theater last Wednesday.  She tells her life story—and spares no dirty details—with a sense of humor that runs a balance between being jaded and angry at the world and in awe of it.  Fisher is unapologetically herself, and doesn’t give a flying whatever about what anyone else thinks—the surefire way to a damn funny show.  Leia has had quite the life, running the gauntlet of drug addictions and rehabs, marriages, divorces, and inevitable getting-back-to-gethers, and desperate attempts to escape the box George Lucas put her in the day he “ruined her life.”

Everyone in the audience was probably a Star Wars fan—if you weren’t, as Fisher asked, why were you there?—so the audience was disposed to like her from the getgo.  They applauded the moment she walked on stage, as seems to be the custom these days for celebrities.  She shrugged it off with feigned indifference and told everyone that they were going to have a great time together.  Togetherness is the key to Fisher’s success and the most impressive thing about her as a performer: she lets the audience in to such a remarkable degree that everyone left feeling like they’d known Fisher for her whole life.  She makes the Bank of America Theater—six-tier proscenium et al—feel like a living room party.

She cheats a bit to manufacture this familiarity.  She picked a few people at the beginning of the show, got their names, and made fun of them ruthlessly for the entire show. There was Barbara, the 80-year old slut, Amanda, the know-it-all, and Tyrone the licentious old man who actually stood up to take her up on her offer for a free sex voucher.  They became her supporting actors, in a way, and whenever she needed to inject some life and immediacy to the show, she whipped out the real live people right in front of her. If nothing else, she had to stay on her toes to remember all of her targets’s names.  Her strategy does a lot to make the performance fresh.  It’s a total, utter, and complete gimmick, but after a while, you don’t care.

Speaking of gimmicks, let me mention some of the other completely sickening elements of this show that made me try very hard (unsuccessfully) to hate it: a musical number, encouraging the audience to shout out questions, a 30-minute lecture on  “Hollywood Incest 101” including the time when—gasp—her dad slept with Elizabeth Taylor, and a part where she invites an audience member onstage and takes a picture together.  She talks about her husband, Paul, the brilliant songwriter, and their marital problems.  You’re a little amazed that they’re normal people, and you think they’re cute, and you’re a little jealous, and you want to scream a little bit.  For the uninformed, that would be the Paul Simon who wrote Graceland, formerly a member of Simon and Garfunkel, a somewhat successful band.  The problem with my hatred is this: Fisher would be the first to admit that it is a pandering diva show, and it’s hard to hate something that is exactly what it claims to be.  Especially something that she clearly loves so much.  You start to love the kitsch.

That’s the other amazing thing about Fisher’s performance, and something that is so vital and so often lacking in theater: she had fun!  What a novel idea.  She clearly keeps performing this show because she has a blast up there, and when she does, we’re right there with her.

A good half of the performance was about her experience being Leia, or surviving Leia—because Star Wars continues to define her life whether Fisher likes it or not.  In a way, this performance makes it worse because of how much she relies on her resentment of Leia as the engine for her writing.  In the time since the performance, Fisher has transformed back into Leia in my mind, and I start to picture her onstage the way she was in the movies.  Don’t worry, not in the metal bikini.


 The media she’s collected on herself is very funny.  Pictures of her—some of which have to be staged—punctuate much of what she’s saying in a manner similar to the way Arrested Development will flash to a funny picture of clip after a bit of narration.  Of course, pictures of Leia in various situations, including rehab, for example, abound.  

Those pictures might be staged, but the rehab and the hospitalizations aren’t a joke.  Fisher’s clearly nuts. Half the time, she’s bipolar and loving it, the other half, she’s depressed, immobilized and addicted.  It’s pretty amazing how fully she accept that about herself without trying numb herself to it or pretend it’s not there.  Besides, she’s come to the realization that in the world, there are only crazy people and people who are trying really hard to pretend they’re normal.  I think she only forgot dead people. Somewhere along the way, she’s found some wisdom to impart.  At the start of the play, she says, “if my life weren’t funny, it would be true.”   We shouldn’t take things so seriously, she seems to say, the way she took her immortalization as Leia for so many years.  In Wishful Drinking, she invites us all to join her in her messed-up-glory, be a little less hard on ourselves, and let life be a big joke.  I think there couldn’t be a worthier goal.

Wishful Drinking runs at the Bank of America Theater as part of Broadway in Chicago until October 16th Visit http://www.broadwayinchicago.com/shows_dyn.php?cmd=display_current&display_showtag=wishdrink11 for more information or to purchase tickets.

Photos: Cylla von Tiedemann

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