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February 2, 2012

'Wishful Drinking' makes rough landing at the Hippodrome, but still flies

As she is the first to tell you, Carrie Fisher has had an eventful life. Since a lot of those events involved drugs, alcohol, rehab, and battles with bipolar issues, you might not think that it could be such a funny life, too. But funny it is. Pretty endearing, too.

Fisher happily shares her experiences in “Wishful Drinking,” a solo theatrical vehicle the actress/writer introduced in 2006 with considerable success. The show, which arrived at the Hippodrome this week, still has legs. The level of sturdiness, though, can vary from performance to performance. (Video from an earlier production -- pre-weight loss -- is posted below.)

There’s no use pretending that opening night on Tuesday went smoothly. Fisher, who could not have been more unflatteringly attired (surely her weight loss since becoming a spokesperson for Jenny Craig deserves a better outfit), often sounded halting, even with a teleprompter.

The uneven pacing made the show’s length more problematic, underlining the fact that ...

there really isn’t quite enough solid-gold, well-structured stuff here to justify two acts.

Fisher, who also seemed to be fighting a cold, told the audience that she had not performed the material in a few months. I imagine she will quickly get back up to speed during the run here. But, hey, any evening with Fisher, in any condition and at any speed, would be hard to resist. She is just such terrific company.

Even if you have seen “Wishful Drinking” before or feel like you already know her stories, the live experience is well worth the effort. Besides, she is likely to toss in fresh observations at any moment (on Tuesday, Newt Gingrich earned a very funny description).

Part of the attraction here is the age-old sport of celebrity-watching. In Fisher’s case, she’s got plenty of celeb cred on her own, having risen to the ranks of the cinematic immortals thanks to a certain sci-fi epic and an iconic hairdo that made her look like an ad for a doughnut company.

The “Star Wars” anecdotes, including the Princess Leia Pez dispenser and other merchandising horrors, still have considerable interest and zing. The saga of that far-away galaxy clearly left a mark — more like a scar, really — on Fisher. There may be no effective therapy for that.

Fisher’s literary efforts, too, have made her a star. “Wishful Drinking,” which unfolds on a fairly intimate, adult-playhouse set designed by David Korins, abounds in clever, witty writing. Fisher is as adept at fashioning a self-deprecating line as she is at aiming a great slice-and-dice assessment at others.

But Fisher offers much, much more in the fame department, which she thoughtfully explains through one of the early visual shticks in “Wishful Drinking” — a crash course in “Hollywood Inbreeding 101.”

There is something endlessly fascinating about the Fisher saga. Who could ever tire of hearing about her mother, the divine Debbie Reynolds, or her roving-eye father, Eddie Fisher? They’re the parental gifts who keep on giving. Even the peripheral characters, especially Marie “The Body” McDonald, are great fodder.

If memories of her long, on-off relationship with Paul Simon still smart, Fisher doesn’t let that stop her from revisiting the chapter in typically incisive and wry fashion. The man who died in Fisher’s bed gets his share of attention, too, as does the father of Fisher’s daughter.

For all of the fun side-trips in the show, every road leads back to Fisher and the crucial issue of her survival. “Wishful Drinking” is an extended lesson in everything counselors say about overcoming addiction or mental woes, especially the part about how acknowledging the problem is the first step, a step that has to be repeated daily.

When you hear the line at the top of the show, “I’m Carrie Fisher and I’m an alcoholic,” it provokes a laugh — she wants it to — but also a cringe. And for two hours, you’re part of group therapy, not just entertainment. The experience can feel a little strange, perhaps, a little voyeuristic, but the level of honesty and candor can work quite a spell.

Folks sitting in the front rows may find themselves drawn into the session more deeply than they had anticipated. Fisher amusingly employs audience participation, much the way Dame Edna does in her one-woman shows, including rewarding a lucky attendee with a stage appearance and memento of the occasion. And, also like Dame Edna, the interaction gives Fisher a chance to show off ad-lib skills.

In a deft touch, the star opens and closes “Wishful Drinking” singing a take on the ironic Barbra Streisand version of “Happy Days Are Here Again.” Fisher’s cares and troubles may not be entirely gone, but you want to believe she will be just fine from now on.

The production runs  through Feb. 12 at the Hippodrome

PHOTO BY CYLLA VON TIEDEMANN

Here's a video taste of the show:





















Posted by Tim Smith at 6:00 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Drama Queens, Hippodrome
        

Comments

I liked Carrie Fisher's material, but agree that audience members are going to need to be prepared for her to falter or stammer at times. Just go with it, she's still charming and worth spending an evening with.

We attended Saturday evening, and it seemed pretty smooth to us. Using the audience participation is one way to break out of the straitjacket of the one-woman monolog.

She is obviously proud of her daughter Billie, and close to the end of the show we see a photo of her, looking amazingly like a young version of her grandmother Debbie Reynolds.

Thanks for the report. I said it was likely to get smoother -- my powers of prognostication are formidable, eh? TIM

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at baltimoresun.com/artsmash. This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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