Just as you might expect, Carrie Fisher steps out of a twinkling galaxy with a flourish onto the stage of Studio 54 where she is performing her solo stand-up-walk-around-crawl-about-sit-down performance piece “Wishful Drinking.” Fisher, who has been performing her assiduously detailed memoirs (subsequently issued in book form) around the country since 2006, is entitled to make a starry entrance. She no longer looks like the Princess Leia whom we fondly recall from “Star Wars” but she does have the look of a mature woman of 52 who would like us to believe that she has been hurtling through time and space for the past 33 years.
Fisher is generously doused with glitter that clings to her short red hair and relatively familiar face. Wearing a loose colorful print peignoir over black silk pajamas, she gives the impression that she is ready for bed, or at least she will be as soon as she finishes sharing her own personal bedtime stories with us. In order to get her pajama party off to a nice start, she sings a robust chorus of “Happy Days Are Here Again” followed by the confession, “I’m Carrie Fisher and I’m an alcoholic. And this is a true story.”
A large screen dominates the center of an attractively abstracted living room setting designed by Alexander V. Nichols (who also gets credit for the lighting and projection design). Projections and film are used advantageously as Fisher’s tell-it-all and tell-it-funny monologue runs its course, under the direction of Tony Taccone. She also makes frequent use of a comfy lounging chair after kicking off her bedroom slippers, often transporting herself across the stage barefoot. She is especially keen on making personal contact with members of the audience, even enticing a gentleman, undoubtedly a good sport, to come up on the stage and put on the famous Princess Leia wig in all its braided glory.
Alliteratively speaking, there’s a lot of muck beneath the mirth in Fisher’s delivery. That she brings it to the surface without apparently harboring any resentment or bitterness is good. As the daughter of Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher and step-daughter to Elizabeth Taylor, Fisher draws on her Hollywood celebrity family roots, her ascent to fame in “Star Wars,” and her descent that takes into account her addiction to drugs and alcohol.
Diagnosed as bi-polar, she cheerily confides, “I was invited to go to a mental hospital.” The truth, as Fisher reveals it, is almost too absurd for words, but she finds the words. There is no lack of material, as old and familiar as it is, as she takes us back to the point in her childhood when her father (Eddie) leaves her mother (Debbie) to go and comfort (Elizabeth), whose husband (Mike Todd) had just died in a plane crash. “He first dried her eyes with his handkerchief, then he consoled her with flowers, and he ultimately consoled her with his penis.”
Discovering discomforting similarities between her failed marriage to composer Paul Simon (“a short Jewish man”) and her mother’s marriage to short and Jewish Eddie Fisher, she also explores the twisted trail that led her to another failed marriage. This time it was to agent Bryan Lourd who was gay and left her for a man named Scott, but not before he fathered their daughter, Billie. As she says about Scott, he was “the man who got the man who got away.”
Fisher gets plenty of mileage out of these weirdly turbulent relationships but she pulls them together entertainingly and without resorting to blame or resentment. Easily exploitable considering her pedigree, Fisher also appears to be allowing her “manic depressive” history to serve her therapeutically. She has proven herself a gifted writer (“Postcards from the Edge,” et al.) and now stands up with commendable resolve to let the facts speak for themselves — none more comically than how she uses a blackboard for a session she calls “Hollywood Inbreeding 101.” Attempting to answer her daughter Billy’s question about whether she is related to her boyfriend Rhys Tivey, Elizabeth Taylor’s grandson, Fisher uses a pointer to take us through a maze of well-known celebrity faces, affairs, marriages, and divorces to show the eventual connection. The answer: “You are related by scandal.”
Although Fisher’s life has proven to be eminently readable in book form, her amiable stage performance makes it clear how important personal connections are and have always been to her. The audience at the performance I attended certainly seemed amused by her wittily conceived anecdotes, but they also seemed obliged to play the role of a support group. Is Fisher sport enough to recreate a scene from “Star Wars?” You bet, and to the audiences delight.
There is an irony in that Fisher is performing at the one-time infamous disco Studio 54, which she admits to having frequented (in her wayward past), now the home of the Roundabout Theater Company, known for its classic revivals. It’s true that Fisher’s life has been gainfully revived. But is she really ready to be considered a classic? **
“Wishful Drinking,” through Sunday, January 3, Roundabout Theater Company at Studio 54, 254 West 54th Street. $31.50 to $111.50. 212-719-1300 or www.roundabouttheatre.org.