Running through January at the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood Village is Carrie Fisher's one person show, Wishful Drinking, about her life and herself, and this humble writer got to see it on Saturday.
Before I stumble into the play itself, let me back up a bit and tell you of the circumstances by which I saw this play. One day, in the recent past, Miss Solstice called me up and told my voice mail that she had an extra ticket for the four o'clock performance of Wishful Drinking on the Saturday after thanksgiving. My reaction was to jump up and down with glee while waving my hands over my head and chanting ‘yeahyeahyeah'.
It turned out that I would not only be going with Miss Solstice. We would be a group of six with Happy Mark, Greg in Shorts, happy robot Rich and Mrs. Robot also attending. Yes, there would be an extremely powerful happyrobot contingent there. Unfortunately, my significant other was out of the country for work.
On Saturday afternoon, Miss Solstice and Greg in Shorts picked me up. I was glad that I wouldn't be driving because I sneaking suspicion that I might need to drink at some point. If the show gets really bad, I might need to drink a lot.
Before heading to Westwood, Miss Solstice wanted to see a friend's art exhibition at a gallery in East West Hollywood. We had about an hour and a half before the curtain, so what the heck. Unfortunately, we got caught in traffic near the Grove Shopping Mall (duh, it's the weekend after thanksgiving), so we didn't make it to the Gallery until 3:20.
We jumped out of the car. We looked at art. We looked at art again. Okay, okay, okay. I liked how the artist used the wallpaper to establish patterns and then broke the patterns either with color or white space. It gave the piece a sense of tension and made one feel disjointed. This disjointedness also carried over to the small children's furniture sitting next to the wall. We were out of the gallery five minutes later. Go! Go! Go!
We had exactly thirty minutes to get to Westwood, park the car, and get into our seats ready to watch theatre. I sat in the back seat and studied the map. I soon realized that Miss Solstice's car might not look like much but it's got it where it counts. We zoomed down Santa Monica Boulevard.
‘Make a right and fly!' I directed as Miss Solstice turned right onto Wilshire. While Greg in Shorts reflected on the passing golf courses, I consulted the map to find any rinky dink short cut that would keep us off Westwood Boulevard. We cut through the back streets of Westwood, roared down Le Conte, and got a supremo parking space. We jaywalked and were in the lobby with ten minutes to spare.
Sweet. I was on an adrenaline rush from the navigating, and I noticed the volume of my voice going way loud as we met Happy Mark, happy robot Rich, and Mrs. Robot. They seemed a bit surprised that we were on time. Little did they realize that Sunshine Jen becomes an A-personality when she has the map in her hands.
The boys drank White Russians while the girls jogged up the stairs to snag our seats. We were in the last row of the balcony or the mezzanine (as the Geffen calls it). We were right under the a/c vents, so I kept my jacket on.
I had been to the Geffen before and had sat in that last row of a five row balcony. The Geffen is wide but not deep, so there's not really a bad seat in the 500 seat house. Personally, I like being up with the angels in the balcony because you can look down and see the whole stage.
At stage right was a big fake weeping willow with lots of plastic stuff hanging from it. At stage left was a grand piano. The upstage wall was black and had the show's logo and title projected onto it. The show's logo, a martini glass with an unknown substance in it, had tiny bubbles spurting out of it. Rich wondered if there was a pattern to how the bubbles came out of the glass, but they seemed pretty random to me.
Then the theatre fell into darkness and we were told to turn off our cell phones and pagers. Then the piano player started pounding out the chords. The chords were so big that it had to be the Star Wars theme and it was. Then there were STARS all over the stage. Lots of STARS. Oodles and Oodles of STARS. I half expected to see the familiar yellow letters float up from the front row, but they didn't.
Spotlight on: Carrie Fisher. Applause. She wore black, but her trousers were too long. Maybe she was going for the Charlie Chaplin tramp look. She sang ‘Happy Days are Here Again' as newspaper headlines documenting her various breakdowns were projected behind her. She had made the cover of the Enquirer a few times. Okay, I get it. She's taking her power back from the Enquirer. She's claiming her life as her own. How very feminist. Or is it post-feminist?
Then, she started talking about herself and her life and how ‘if her life weren't funny, it would just be true, and that would be unacceptable'. Wait, I've heard that somewhere. Oh yeah, page 262 of her last novel. Okay, maybe I'm a hard sell as a theatre goer, but the rest of the house was eating it up like candy.
Carrie Fisher is no stage actor. She has horrific posture. Her movement is stiff. She has no voice. She was miked. She can hit notes when she sings, but her articulation is abysmal. But. . .
This is a very important but. She is a star. She has star magic, star quality, star. . .stuff. You gotta look at her. She draws you to her. I don't know why. Maybe it's genetics. She turned fifty in October (yes, Princess Leia is fifty, we're all getting older), and she suits her age. She looks good, but she also looks like a human person and not a Hollywood android.
In Act One, she talked about her growing up and her Hollywood pedigree which she showed with the aid of a flow chart made up of headshots. She talked about her mother, Debbie Reynolds, who sounds like a piece of work. She talked and talked all the way to Star Wars.
Act One was agony. Okay, I'm being melodramatic. Act One was agony with a few funny bits. The last three theatre performances I had seen had been Beckett plays (Waiting for Godot, an evening of monologues which included Texts for Nothing, and a one man adaptation of the novels). Beckett is beautifully brutal and so precise, and the actors thrived in the silences. Silence. What a wonderful thing. Ohhhh yes. I wanted Beckett back!
I know rationally that Carrie Fisher is no Samuel Beckett, but I definitely needed a very strong drink at intermission. The only one who got to the bar before me was Greg in Shorts who ordered up another round of White Russians. I didn't want cream. I wanted something lean and mean like gasoline, so I ordered a Tanqueray martini straight up two olives.
The bartender was a wonderful person, truly worthy of sainthood. He chilled the little plastic cup for me. He took his time. Sure the two ladies behind me were antsy for their vodka crans, but you don't rush the good stuff. Even the olives were sublime. I sipped my martini and felt good. Oh yes, drinking is good.
Act Two was much better. Carrie Fisher read from her teenage journals which showed a lot of spunk. She talked about having an affair while making Star Wars, but it wasn't with Chewbacca. I gasped in shock. Miss Solstice told me later that Carrie Fisher acknowledged my gasp, but I have no memory of that.
When Carrie Fisher brought up manic depression, I cheered. I was shocked that I was the only one who cheered manic depression, but I stand by my cheering. Someone has to do it. I booed when her list of alcoholics included the whole nation of Ireland.
As she dove deeper into her psyche, she could talk about the darkness without being self-defeating, and she could talk about coming out of it without sounding new agey. I do appreciate her candor and wanted more of that. However, I also appreciated the Interpretive Dance to the Paul Simon song as well as the Princess Leia wig she wore at one point. She was finding her own theatricality. Uhhuh, yeah.
I think she has written a very bi-polar play about herself. There were moments of bland mediocrity which shot into moments of pure agony which shot into moments of ecstatic bliss. It was a play of uppers and downers without a lot of space to just breathe.
At the climax of the play, she recited the ‘Help Me Obi Wan Kenobi' speech. The stage was bathed in flickering blue light. Her timing was exactly like the film. I know this because I was whispering it along with her. It was a sacred moment for people of a certain age in the audience. It's like when you're in church, and the lord's prayer is recited, and you just know it without knowing it. I was moved in that post-modern Star Wars geek kind of way, and then I was moved in that Beckett girl kind of way.
When the speech was over, I turned to Happy Mark and Greg in Shorts and said:
‘You must learn the ways of the Force if you're to come with me to Alderaan.'