Sunday, November 23, 2008

Wishful Drinking

It was with some trepidation that I went back in September to see Carrie Fisher in Wishful Drinking, her one-woman show. I'm not much for memoirs, especially those of the "Mommy Dearest" or "kiss and tell" mode. Fisher, though, acquitted herself well for the most part. She knows how to play to an audience, and she uses irony, self-deprecation, and caustic one-liners to prevent the material from descending into maudlin self-pity. Some sections are very funny indeed, such as her attempt to reconstruct a "Hollywood Family Tree" that rivals the Houses of York and Lancaster. The stories about George Lucas and the filming of Star Wars were true crowd pleasers. I liked too her humorous and surprisingly generous assessment of her famous parents, Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, even though their parenting skills were clearly paltry at best.

I was less entertained by the long, long account of shock therapy treatment. Fisher has battled addiction, depression, and various demons since adolescence, and while I felt compassion for her plight, I also experienced some discomfort with the florid details. Perhaps this unease arises from my own upbringing, with the concomitant insistence that one doesn't air dirty laundry--especially not with strangers--an attitude that seems nothing short of antediluvian these days.

I couldn't help but wonder, though, as I listened to Fisher recount the pills, booze, blackouts, and binges, if a little reticence might not be in order. What purpose do these sorts of revelations serve? Are we supposed to celebrate Fisher as a survivor (to use that popular term)? By her own admission, she consistently exercised poor judgment; what, then, is to admire--that she managed evade death or derangement despite her frequent attempts at self-annihilation? This hardly seems heroic to me, especially given Fisher's extraordinarily privileged upbringing and subsequent opportunities. Alternatively, Fisher could be attempting to shock us with her oftentimes hilarious but nonetheless disconcerting story of despair and degradation, but in this age of "misery memoirs," with their accompanying tales of domestic horror, her narrative is hardly singular. The final and most disturbing possibility is that Fisher's revelations function as a kind of therapy, a way for her to exorcise demons. If so, I'm not sure the audience is proving sufficiently palliative. At points during the performance, my friend and I found ourselves wondering if Fisher was, well, drunk or stoned (not to put a fine point on it). She slurred words, forgot anecdotes, and didn't seem entirely in control, which in turn made us even more uncomfortable.

As we left the theatre, I reflected (yet again) on why I so dislike and rarely attend this kind of theatre: I want live performance to rock my world. I want to be enthralled, challenged, enraged, provoked, even pushed around a bit. I'll happily settle for the pure entertainment of slick plots, great show tunes, and snappy dialogue. But I don't want to walk out feeling as though I've just been through a live, slightly upmarket version of what I can see on nearly any major television network.

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