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WISHFUL DRINKING reviewed in The New York Times

The New York Times
October 5, 2009

Just Me and My Celebrity Shadows


You have probably wondered what it would be like to walk a mile (or a light-year) in the hair coils of Princess Leia, the intergalactic pinup girl from the original “Star Wars” movies. O.K., so you haven’t.

But Carrie Fisher has arrived on Broadway with the intention of clamping those unflattering Danish-pastry-shaped pieces right onto your head — I mean, figuratively, of course, though in the case of one (un)lucky selected audience member per show, literally. What’s more, you’re going to like it. A lot.

Ms. Fisher — an actress, writer and sometime heroine of the tabloids — is the creator and cast of “Wishful Drinking,” the brut-dry, deeply funny memoir of a show that opened on Sunday night at Studio 54, directed by Tony Taccone. And for her first-act finale, she surrounds herself with images of merchandise inspired by Princess Leia, a role she created for George Lucas’s box-office-breaking “Star Wars” trilogy when she was in her early 20s.

So there, coming into focus like the last merciless visions of a drowning science-fiction geek, are projected giant photographs of the Princess Leia action figure, the Princess Leia Pez dispenser, the soap bar, the shampoo bottle, the too-anatomically-correct porcelain figurine and — my goodness — the life-size Princess Leia sex doll.

That last item shows up on stage in the semiflesh, and Ms. Fisher, who at 52 has redonned her old Leia coif for the scene, admits she doesn’t have the equipment to deal properly with her made-for-pleasure alter ego. That’s where the male volunteer comes in. And, oh yes, the other Princess Leia wig.

Whether or not you are the audience member anointed to model the Leia hairdo, you will by now have started to see the world through the self-dissociating eyes of the woman who first wore it. Ms. Fisher, daughter of the movie star Debbie Reynolds and the crooner Eddie Fisher, cannot be said to have had an Everywoman’s life. Yet “Wishful Drinking” makes you believe, for a couple of hours, that Carrie Fisher is you.

That’s quite an achievement when you consider the Bizarro Land labyrinth of Ms. Fisher’s very public existence: a childhood disrupted when Dad left Mom for Elizabeth Taylor; a Broadway debut at 15 in the chorus of Mom’s musical “Irene”; the mind-bending fame that came with “Star Wars”; a bumpy marriage to the singer Paul Simon; a reputation as a party girl who could match John Belushi in hedonistic excess; another marriage to a Hollywood agent who left her for another man; and, in 2005, the experience of waking up to find a close friend, a 42-year-old Republican operative named R. Gregory Stevens, dead in her bed beside her.

That last event being the most recent and rawest, it is dealt with early in “Wishful Drinking,” when Ms. Fisher throws open the floor to questions from the audience about Mr. Stevens’s death. “Hit me with your best shot,” she seems to be saying, meeting each question with a bullwhip quip. “I can take it.” But you don’t feel she’s trivializing a tragedy. What she is doing, most cannily, is letting you see the Carrie Fisher Defense System in action. I mean the one that’s built on the transformational power of epigrams instead of pills.

Anyone who achieves or is hit by great fame, especially early in life, develops a sense of a separate self that exists slightly to the side of the real thing. Jacqueline Onassis spoke about this phenomenon, as have countless movie stars. But if you’re going to stay in the game, and not wind up like Marilyn Monroe, you learn to make that separate self your servant.

Though cursed with an addictive personality and, it turned out later, bipolar disorder, Ms. Fisher was blessed with a sense of the howling absurdity built into fishbowl lives. And long before she created “Wishful Drinking,” which was first seen in Los Angeles in 2006, she had channeled that sensibility into wry, autobiographical novels, most notably “Postcards From the Edge.”

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