A Sparkling Cocktail

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By Peter Marks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 8, 2008

Carrie Fisher sure can dish it. And we're only too happy to take it.

Her blissfully gossipy one-woman show, "Wishful Drinking," acerbically, uproariously and, yes, even affectionately mines the rich veins of a life lived to a conveniently lampoonable degree in the public eye.

Think of all those ringside seats: As the daughter of Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, Carrie Fisher grew up an innocent bystander to that Hollywood ur-scandal, the one in which Eddie ditched Debbie for Liz (as in, you know, Taylor). Then, at 19, she landed the role of Princess Leia in "Star Wars," the most successful popcorn movie franchise of all time. Incapable, it seems, of living small, she followed that up with a stormy marriage to the touchstone songwriter of the baby-boom generation, Paul Simon.

Even her grimmest, drug-and-alcohol-poisoned valleys have gone up in lights, courtesy of the 1990 film version of her quasi-autobiographical novel, "Postcards From the Edge."

Is this not promising source material for two confessional hours on a stage? (So, okay, raise your hand if your life story has starred Meryl Streep and been directed by Mike Nichols.)

Fisher, whose show has been brought to the Lincoln Theatre on U Street as the opening act of Arena Stage's temporary residency there, clues us in on each and every one of these subjects, and not simply because they supply the flavor of juice that inquiring minds want to imbibe. We get the dirt, but we get it with a refreshing textual stylishness. For Fisher is a writer through and through, and ingrained in her wit is a Wildean panache, an ability to sew a snappy hem on a robe of desperation.

She assumes we're smart, too, a strategy that propels us all the more eagerly into her circle, to gaze out at the absurd excesses of a Hollywood upbringing -- she tells us her childhood manse had eight pink refrigerators -- as well as at the mayhem that resulted from her own excesses. With an admirable absence of sermonizing or self-pity, she informs us of her struggles with drug dependency and psychological instability.

"I was invited to go to a mental hospital," she explains, making it sound as if psychiatric commitment were equivalent to getting into Vanity Fair's Oscar party. Over the titters of the audience, she adds: "It's like an invitation to the White House -- only you meet a better class of people."

The impulse to spill all the beans will be heroically battled here, though it would take a very long review to catalogue all the funny lines. (If you want no further details, feel free to skip to the ticket information helpfully provided below.) One other admonition: The odds are high that if you are seated in the front row, you will end up in the show for a brief spell. It's all in good fun, naturally, but if anonymity's your thing, opt for Row B and beyond.

Fisher, now in her early 50s, greets us on this evening, directed by Tony Taccone, with a song. Her lived-in voice -- a match for an admittedly lived-in body -- is agreeably supple; once you hear it, the fact that she is the progeny of a crooner and a star of movie musicals becomes genetically transparent. The panel of large windowpanes behind her will be used as screens for the projection of photos and other images from her past. And props will drop from the ceiling to underline her stories, particularly during her tales of the making of and living with the consequences of "Star Wars," a reliable generator through the years of fame, stalkers and -- because George Lucas retains the rights to her likeness -- kitschy souvenirs.

The bizarre turmoil of her parents' marriage seems to have given Fisher a deep schooling in the narrow dimensions of the fishbowl, where "Star Wars" was unexpectedly to redeposit her. (In what may be the most inspired sequence in "Wishful Drinking," Fisher uses a hilarious visual aid to illustrate the tabloid-friendly high jinks of her celebrity family tree.)

No one involved in the first "Star Wars" movie, she says, had any idea it would be a blockbuster, and she looks back for us at that experience as filled with regrettable artistic choices -- most unforgivably, from her perspective, the hairdo that Lucas imposed on her, the one that forever stamps her as sporting something on the order of braided headphones.

Unlike those of some of the actresses she says she beat out for the part -- Jodie Foster and Teri Garr among them -- Fisher's film career did not exactly flourish after that. "Wishful Drinking" does not delve too introspectively into the question of what exactly happened. It leaves the impression, though, that the chaos brought on by addictions and other demons cast her as one who spent more time acting out than acting.

What her show reaffirms is that Fisher's gift all along was to translate into words the crazy events in her memory banks and funny synapses of her nervous system. For "Wishful Drinking" manages to make splendid sense of a turbulent existence that sometimes didn't.

Wishful Drinking, by Carrie Fisher. Directed by Tony Taccone. Sets, lighting and projections, Alexander V. Nichols. About two hours. Through Sept. 28 at Lincoln Theatre, 1215 U St. NW. Call 202-488-3300 or visit

© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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