SURVIVOR: Fisher’s saving grace is her scathing wit.
Since Dorothy Parker died, in 1967, Carrie Fisher is probably the most hilarious screwed-up person alive. Really, she’s as funny as Dame Edna Everage and as screwed-up as Britney Spears crossed with Sylvia Plath. In her one-woman show Wishful Drinking (presented by the Huntington Theatre Company at the Boston University Theatre through October 26), this scion of Hollywood royalty lets her pimpled personal history hang out, from a childhood caught in the winds of scandal to an adolescence as a Star Wars icon in hairmuffs to an adulthood spent in the lusty embrace of drugs, alcohol, manic depression, and Paul Simon. Lumpy, candid, and caustic at 52, the artist formerly known as Princess Leia sprinkles wry humor like heavy pixie dust across her cautionary tale of a life that “if it weren’t funny would just be true — and that is unacceptable.”
Not only is Fisher’s on-stage memoir immensely entertaining, it’s been trumped up with multimedia accouterments uncommon in a one-person show. There is a contemporary living-room set backed by roiling orange and a montage of projections. Fisher enters warbling “Happy Days Are Here Again” as newspaper headlines fly behind her chronicling events from the severing of America’s sweethearts — her parents, Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds — to her own hospitalizations and bad reviews. (She’s declared “bovine and unappealing” by infamously misogynistic critic John Simon.)
The writer/performer breaks the ice by recalling the moment when she woke up with a dead friend in her bed. (“He not only died in his sleep, he died in mine.”) Then she backtracks to the beginning of an existence that’s been equal parts celebrity and absurdity. The events and relationships revisited in Wishful Drinking may be twisted, but Fisher’s ironic celebration of the success-studded train wreck of her life will keep you doubled over for two hours. It’s only in the aftermath that you worry about this poster girl for bi-polar disorder, who apologizes early on for any memory lapses she may suffer as a result of recent shock therapy — which she heartily recommends. (If Wishful Drinking has a serious purpose, it is to destigmatize mental illness.)
As she herself suggests, Fisher’s saving grace is her scathing wit, which is more upbeat than cruel. She has passed through the world weighted by baggage and privilege and brains. And through no fault or particular effort of her own, she has accumulated buckets o’ fodder for a show like Wishful Drinking. Ostensibly in response to a question from her 16-year-old daughter regarding the girl’s possible connection to a grandson of Mike Todd, Fisher hauls out a blackboard chock with an extended-family tree encompassing her multiply married parents and their serial, internecine amours. Her account of this twisted, gilded mating history is hilarious. Its conclusion: daughter Billie and the young man descended from Liz Taylor and her third husband are “related by scandal.”
That Fisher’s identity has been co-opted early and often, mostly with her complicity, is acknowledged from the get-go with a voiceover announcement that, regrettably, at this evening’s performance, the part of Carrie Fisher will not be played by Meryl Streep (who did the honors in the film based on Fisher’s autobiographical novel, Postcards from the Edge). Fisher later trumpets with mock pride that she’s been both a Pez dispenser and a chapter in an abnormal-psychology textbook — the latter illustrated with a picture of white-draped, chubby-cheeked, coiffure-challenged Princess Leia.
Whether charging about the skewed faux living room, tucking a leg under herself in a big easy chair, or guiding us through “Hollywood 101” with a pointer, Fisher is an exaggerated, appealing personality decked out in leggings, gilt-trimmed shmatas, and sparkly eye shadow. Berkeley Rep honcho Tony Taccone is at the helm of her quick-moving show, which borrows a page or two from Dame Edna in its folksy engagement of individual audience members. I’m not a fan of shanghaiing the audience, but, as with Dame Edna, there seems to be no resisting Carrie Fisher. The force is with her.