Monday, October 5, 2009

Wishful Drinking


By Carrie Fisher. Directed by Tony Taccone. Studio 54. Through January 3, 2010.

There is some question as to whether Carrie Fisher's autobiographical Wishful Drinking is theater or stand-up comedy. Though most critics find Fisher to be an entertaining stage presence, they write that the evening is not fully satisfying as theater. Critics would like the show to be shorter and more cohesive. The least successful bits, according to the reviews, are the audience interaction and the most successful is the Hollywood Inbreeding 101 chart.

Show Showdown A+
(Cameron Kelsall) No, there's nothing disgusting onstage--unless the sight of a slightly zaftig fifty-three year old woman trying to dry hump a young male audience member doesn't exactly do it for you. Rather, the reason that you should refrain from food prior to Fisher's two-hour confessional is that, if your reaction to the show is anything like mine, you'll be heaving so heartily in your seat that by the end of the evening you find yourself on the verge of nausea... All of this material is inherently dramatic--most of these plot-points could easily make their way into a play by Martin McDonagh or Tracy Letts--which is all the more reason to praise Fisher and her comedic prowess. She throws up her hands and laughs at her pain, and you'd better believe we're laughing with her.

The New York Times A
(Ben Brantley) 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.” I wasn’t a big fan of that book or the 1990 movie it inspired. It had a smart-girl-among-the-philistines smugness that got on my nerves. But if Ms. Fisher had read it to me herself, I might have loved it. What you don’t sense in her books is the disarming, entre-nous presence that she brings to live performance. Barefoot in pajamas and a robe, lounging in a kitsch-filled sanctum-in-outer-space designed by Alexander V. Nichols, Ms. Fisher makes you feel you’ve arrived for a slumber party to swap confidences. Never mind that she does most of the talking. She has the gift, possessed by only the smartest and most charming of narcissists, of making you think that it’s somehow all about you when of course it’s all about her.

Associated Press A
(Michael Kuchwara) Confession may be good for the soul, but does it make for good theater? Yes, indeed. Especially when the author and star is Carrie Fisher, daughter of showbiz royalty, "Star Wars" icon, manic-depressive, alcoholic and astute observer of the Hollywood scene. Fisher is a raconteur in the best sense of the word. She knows how to tell a story. And "Wishful Drinking," her hilariously perceptive journey through a world of celebrity and self-destruction, is chock-full of funny, fascinating tales. It helps that Fisher has enormous rapport with the audience at Broadway's Studio 54, where her autobiographical one-woman show opened Sunday.

Lighting & Sound America A
(David Barbour) "My name is Carrie Fisher, and I'm an alcoholic," she announces, clarifying the situation for those two people in the audience who haven't heard. And we're off, as, with the acuity of anthropologist, she guides us through the bizarre practices of the beautiful, famous, and self-destructive. As she notes, "When you're a survivor, you have to get into trouble to show off your gift." Her real gift is for turning her life's low points into sparkling high comedy... These hair-raising tales are served up in the soothing tone of a nanny reading selections from Mother Goose to a roomful of sleepy children, an approach that only adds to their comic impact. Some have groused that Wishful Drinking isn't much more than a glorified stand-up act; okay, fine, but when the words are as glittering, as dagger-sharp as they are here, you'll get no complaints from me. A
(Eugene Paul) Say what you will about Carrie Fisher, she’s said it all already, louder, cleverer, wittier and much worse, up there on the stage, night after night or strolling down in the audience sprinkling ersatz stardust, a perfect metaphor for her far from perfect life. The only thing missing is a very long clothes line on which she hangs all the dirty linen – and polyester – from adorable childhood to much larger than desired middle age. Carrie lets it all hang out and makes you want to hang with her because she’s so goddam funny and a helluva performer as she stomps all over the clay feet of many an idol, all of them tangled up on the crass-cross webbing of family and friends, very intimate friends. One of Carrie’s achingly amusing demonstrations is her explication of relationships among a welter of familiar faces displayed on a large lecture board so that we do not miss a thing as she tries to establish that the child of one set of marriages may be related to the child of still another of the Fisher connected marriages. Or not. It’s beyond complicated, it’s hilarious, and a good dose of vicious, the kind we love so to dwell on. Carrie obviously can take it and, baby, can she dish sit out. She might well have called her show “Dishful Winking”. (There. I’m glad I said it.)

Entertainment Weekly A-
(Melissa Rose Bernardo) Alcoholism, manic depression, death, divorce, and Star Wars — they're all fodder for Carrie Fisher in her breathlessly witty one-woman show Wishful Drinking. Padding around barefoot in silky black pajamas on her shabby-chic set (area rugs, twinkle lights, furry throws), Fisher looks like she's about to float off to a meditation session with Shirley MacLaine. Then the artist formerly known as Princess Leia uncorks her martini-dry wit and unleashes a stream of impossibly funny, just-a-bit cruel one-liners, each funnier than the previous one.

Just Shows To Go You A-
(Patrick Lee) In her wryly entertaining solo show, essentially a stand-up routine with theatrical elements (including an intermission), Carrie Fisher reveals a thing or two about her parents Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, her ex-husband Paul Simon, and her “Star Wars” director George Lucas. The material wouldn’t be more than sarcastic navel-gazing were it not for Fisher’s sharp wit and self-effacing personality: her tart one-liners sometimes recall vintage Fran Lebowitz, and she delivers them judiciously for maximum acidity.

TheaterMania A-
(David Finkle) Admirably, her consistent humor isn't simply built on the funny-now-but-not-so-funny-then chapters from her book of the same name. Still, as polished as the proceedings are, they lack some of the gravity that her book possesses -- especially in its discussion of Fisher's experience with electroconvulsive therapy.Throughout Fisher has an ability to use words like Play-Doh, manipulating them to her clever advantage. For example, on the subject of remarrying -- which she's seen a lot of going on around her -- she coins the term "the triumph of nostalgia over judgment." On the subject of substance abuse, she juggles Karl Marx's "Religion is the opiate of the masses" pronouncement to report she took "masses of opiates religiously." There's no denying what Fisher is doing is a stand-up routine; but as directed by Tony Taccone and designed by Alexander V. Nichols, that aspect of its origin is craftily disguised.

Talkin' Broadway A-
(Matthew Murray) The earlier sideshow moments too brazenly pinpoint the show’s stand-up-comedy roots, and Fisher’s later admissions of humanity swing too far in the other direction for even her usual lighthearted manner to completely absolve. (Of her manic depression, Fisher variously says, “One mood is the meal, the next mood is the check,” “When you’re manic, every urge is like an edict from the Vatican,” and “Losing your mind is frightening, especially if you have a lot to lose.) Fluid transitions between key points in life may be less important in comedy routines, where the joke is the thing. But they really do help for larger-scale theatrical outings, which usually need a bit of extra weight to fill out a full-size house. That, however, is all that’s undersized. Fisher may be best known for her movies and books (including her 1987 novel, Postcards from the Edge, and its subsequent film version) but she’s a stage natural. If her voice has lost a little of its supple clarity since her earliest days, its new smoky brightness is the perfect match for her ever-upward outlook. Whether singing “Happy Days Are Here Again” (at the beginning and end of the show), engaging the audience in everything from Q&As and spirited barbs to psychological evaluations and even bringing one gentleman onstage to test out a Princess Leia sex doll (don’t ask), or merely narrating her life in a more straightforward (if cockeyed) fashion, she always owns the room and never loses her indomitable, self-deprecating spunk. Even if this show is, as Fisher insists, a self-serving vehicle that’s merely “a pathetic bid for the attention I lacked as a newborn,” her talent and inventiveness prove she’s earned it.

Backstage A-
(David Sheward) This is more than a juicy tell-all. Fisher dryly delivers her observations on aging ("I haven't been naked in 15 years and I haven't been sleeveless in 20"), finding love ("I knew as I got older my chances for romance would get slimmer, but the people haven't") and the strange coincidence that her image has been used as both a Pez dispenser and in a text book on abnormal psychology. She frankly discusses her bouts with manic depression and substance abuse, observing that time has permitted her to see these trials with a comic eye. The only segments that fall flat involve audience participation. Unfortunately, Fisher is no Dame Edna. You can practically feel the discomfort in the air as an unlucky theatergoer reluctantly climbs on stage to try on a Priness Leia wig with the bagel-size hair coils. Apart from these awkward interludes, Tony Taccone's staging never flags and Fisher never fails to keep us from chuckling at the insanity of her life and admiring her resolve to survive.

Newsday A-
(Linda Winer) Grotesque? Yes, but in a smart-cookie way. You see, Fisher is the sort of person who makes sure she mocks herself before anyone else can. She also knows a good story when she lives it. Drugs and alcohol? Rehab and mental institutions? Divorces from Paul Simon and from a Hollywood agent who left her for another man? And a dead gay friend in her bed? As Fisher sees it, this is material begging to be confronted and enjoyed in public - not just postcards from the edge, but live onstage with glitter and an R2D2 throw pillow on the divan. The show, tenderly directed by Tony Taccone and developed at his Berkeley Repertory Theatre, does teeter on the uh-oh edge of self-help inspiration during the meandering second act, and the audience-participation bits are pretty stale. But the visual aids are bliss, including a blackboard for Fisher's merciless Hollywood Inbreeding 101.

CurtainUp A-
(Simon Saltzman) 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 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) but and that's now the home of the Roundabout Theatre 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?

NYMag A-
(Stephanie Zacharek) Fisher has a light touch: Her zingers are sharp, but she always stops short of cruelty. (When Mike Todd, her father’s best friend and Liz Taylor’s husband, died in a plane crash, Eddie Fisher “flew to Elizabeth’s side—gradually making his way slowly to her front.”) She’s toughest on herself, and the show’s second half, focusing on her rehab and treatment for mental illness, veers close to self-help platitudes. But Fisher, padding around the stage in black silk pajamas, doesn’t stand still long enough to feel sorry for herself.

The Daily News B+
(Joe Dziemianowicz) The show shares similarities with other solo works. Like Bea Arthur, Fisher performs barefoot. Like Elaine Stritch, she spills about her destructive alcohol addiction. Like Dame Edna, she sings a bit and has silly audience participation, which, like the intermission, could be jettisoned. If you've read any of Fisher's best sellers or seen "Postcards from the Edge," much of the material will be familiar and you may be wishful that revelations ran deeper than swimming pools (she grew up with three) and Pez dispensers (her face tops one). But with Fisher's winning wit and gift for gab you're glad to sit around and laugh with her for a couple of hours.

On Off Broadway B+
(Matt Windman) Though the show belongs in a more intimate theater, Fisher and Studio 54 are both fondly remembered as 1970s sex icons. Its two-and-a-half hour running time could also be trimmed, perhaps by removing some of the more disturbing details of Act Two. On the whole, Fisher deserves much credit for her extreme honesty and good humor (i.e. likening her current physical appearance to Elton John). She's laughing at herself, but the audience is definitely laughing with her.

USA Today B
(Elysa Gardner) Two hours and change is a long time for any autobiographical performance piece, let alone one whose subject's personal and professional history has been, as she acknowledges, tabloid fodder. But Fisher solicits attention with such brazen vitality and earthy, self-deprecating humor that she never loses us completely... Fisher enlists her fans' interaction in other ways. Questions are tossed out freely; at a recent preview, a woman was awarded a medal for answering an especially obvious one. Though Fisher's foibles — her failed relationships, her struggles with alcoholism and manic-depression — are the focus, the effect is less one of navel-gazing than wry commiseration.

Variety B-
(David Rooney) Nobody needs another poor-little-me solo piece about overcoming personal demons, even from a writer-performer as witty as Fisher. But from its title to its first spoken line, "Hi, I'm Carrie Fisher, and I'm an alcoholic," the show suggests a cathartic cleansing in the manner of "Elaine Stritch at Liberty." In that benchmark for solo vehicles, Stritch was disarmingly frank about her years as a messy drunk and, occasionally, a raging bitch. But it's as if Fisher got all the dark, destructive stuff out of her system in her semiautobiographical novel (and screenplay) "Postcards From the Edge," leaving this older, wiser first-person account feeling like the diet version. As far as low-calorie foods go, however, this is pretty delicious. The first act, especially, is studded with zingers as Fisher recaps her birth in Burbank to "blue-blooded white trash," Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, through the role -- and the bagel-bun hairdo -- she spent 30 years trying to shake off, Princess Leia in "Star Wars." Whether she's lecturing (with visual aids) on "Hollywood Inbreeding 101" or reflecting on being some teenage dweeb's masturbation fantasy, Fisher gives this snappy scripted material an agreeably loose, off-the-cuff feel... There are incisive observations about mental illness (on the tidal shifts of bipolar disorder: "One mood is the meal; the next mood is the check"), and Fisher milks comedy out of the standard psychology questionnaire taken by patients like herself, by quizzing the audience and establishing how few New Yorkers pass the test unblemished. But it's precisely when the material should dig deeper into self-exposure that Fisher frustrates by continuing to skate along the jokey surface, thus reducing the emotional stakes and robbing the show of a strong narrative arc.

NY1 B-
(Roma Torre) "Wishful Drinking" is a lot of fun -- a dry martini with extra olives that offers a potent escape. But the high is short-lived. And anyone looking for a more meaningful experience may be disappointed. Carrie Fisher is a product of Hollywood who's learned how to turn adversity into punch lines and she's a master at it. Just don't mistake candor for soul-baring. It's got just about the best opening sequence in a solo show that I've ever seen. Deadpanning through "Happy Days Are Here Again" she half heartedly tosses confetti in the air while projected behind her are headlines trumpeting the many lowlights in her life -- the bitter split between her parents, Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher; the scandal that rocked Hollywood when her dad left her mom for the newly widowed Elizabeth Taylor, Carrie's drug addiction, her own divorces, manic depression and on and on.

The New Yorker B-
(Unsigned) Carrie Fisher is best known as the princess of Alderaan, but she makes a convincing bid as camp goddess in her biting stage tell-all... The show wears thin—it tops two hours—only because Fisher’s wit exceeds her purview, which is herself. Nevertheless, her ability to boil down a life of mishaps into tart one-liners is a testament to some crazy kind of strength.

Show Showdown C+
(Wendy Caster) Much of the material is very funny; little of it is new. The show runs a good 15 to 20 minutes too long, and Carrie Fisher the performer is not in the same league as Carrie Fisher the writer... Wishful Drinking is for the already converted. If you think you'll enjoy it, you probably will. If you think you won't enjoy it, you probably won't.

Time Out New York D+
(Helen Shaw) Self-deprecatory to a fault, Fisher can be dirty and delightful (despite her single-rhythm delivery), and taken in smaller doses, wryly hilarious. After a while, though, her cigarette-roughened rasp seems to be concealing real brittleness, and her much-referred-to Hollywood inbreeding has left her both cynical and desperate for our approval. She assures us she wants to confess, that she’d rather have the poison out than in. Still, her openness yields diminishing returns; it might be best if these forces just stayed with her.

Bloomberg News D+
(John Simon) I am prepared to feel compassionate toward people whom poverty and hopelessness have driven into addiction. I take a dimmer view of a person whom riches and pampering have surrounded from cradle to middle age, who could claim the best rehab centers as habitats yet, for all this, is still fighting her demons with white kid gloves in the limelight of our most prestigious arenas. To give her due credit, she makes fun of herself, often quite amusingly, sprinkled with just the finest dusting of pathos. There is smart, vengeful riffing on her marriage and after-marriage to the singer and songwriter Paul Simon. Still, hers has been one of the more applauded acts in American celebrity life: the confessed sinner who tells all but can afford to tell it laughingly, and to vociferous encouragement from the audience even during her show, and with thunderous standing ovations at the end.

New York Post D-
(Elisabeth Vincentelli) While the actress-turned-author is handy with a quip, "Wishful Drinking" quickly wears thin. After more than two hours of raspy-voiced zingers and Hollywood gossip -- it's actually faster to read the book this touring show inspired -- you feel as if you've been stuck in a simultaneously garish and cheap boudoir with a garrulous drag queen who just. Won't. Shut. Up. That tone is set from the very beginning: Fisher, barefoot in black satin pajamas and a dressing gown, enters singing "Happy Days Are Here Again" while a montage of lurid headlines flashes in the background. Fisher looks downright cheery, dusting the front rows with what looks like sequins. We're one step away from Liza Minnelli, and what follows, complete with sexually ambiguous husbands and complicit use of the audience, only confirms that impression. But while Minnelli channels her tragic baggage through songs, Fisher is a lot more direct: She just tells us.

Show Showdown A+ 14; The New York Times A 13; AP A 13; Lighting & Sound America A 13; TheaterScene.Net A 13; EW A- 12; Just Shows To Go You A- 12; TheaterMania A- 12; Talkin' Broadway A- 12; Backstage A- 12; Newsday A- 12; CurtainUp A- 12; NYMag A- 12; The Daily News B+ 11; On Off Broadway B+ 11; USA Today B 10; Variety B- 9; NY1 B- 9; The New Yorker B- 9; Show Showdown C+ 8; TONY D+ 5; Bloomberg News D+ 5; New York Post D- 3; TOTAL: 242/23 = 10.52 (B+)


Anonymous said...

Thanks, as always, for posting this. But what about Superior Donuts? Did I miss that one?

Linda said...

Unfortunately, we got a bit behind, but Superior Donuts will be up today.

Anonymous said...

the audience interaction is, for many fans, the best part! i think the critics lose sight of the fact that many of the people who are seeing the show just adore carrie, and to interact with her is pretty much the best thing ever! also, as she says, just being up there by herself isn't what its all about. its a shared journey, and the audience is her scene partner.