Sunday, November 8, 2009

Review: Wishful Drinking

All you have to do is look at the image of the book cover on the right and see the ridiculous twisty-bun hairdo to recognize Princess Leia from Star Wars...but wait, are those pills and an empty martini glass in her hand? The actress and writer Carrie Fisher has released this book and is now starring in a one-woman show at Studio 54 (yes, the former historic dance club, now owned by the Roundabout Theatre Company) just off Broadway. My friend NV from Miami Beach was back in town with friends for his birthday, so last night we had a lovely dinner at Maison and then went to see the show. It is hilarious. Fisher breaks down all the drama of her life into a two-hour monologue (well, really, a dialogue because there are audience-participation moments) that covers issues from being the daughter of Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher to her own failed marriages and bouts with alcoholism and drug addiction. When her daughter started dating Elizabeth Taylor's grandson (or something like that), Fisher realized that they might be related, hence her genealogy-history lesson "Hollywood Inbreeding 101" in which she goes through all the marriages and divorces of her parents and their ex-spouses. As she so aptly put it, when Taylor's husband died, Fisher's father offered first his shoulder for her to cry on and then he comforted her with his penis. Fisher is best identified with Princess Leia, and she spends a fair amount of time recounting how this impacted her life. Not only has she been marketed as a sex doll, but she's a Pez dispenser too (which she claims is her favorite self-image of all). This segment proves that Hollywood is less about art and more about merchandising, especially when you see these all the ways her image has been appropriated.

The crux of the show, however, is about Fisher's bouts with addiction and bipolar disease, and her electro-shock therapy treatments. You could sense at times that the audience gets uncomfortable when she talks about these things because much of what she's describing seems like something you shouldn't laugh at, or just sounds so emotionally painful on her part. But her humor about it all makes you realize that it has been her way of coping with life. She makes no apologies for anything she says, and she certainly isn't looking for sympathy. At one point, she gives the audience a "mental health" quiz, and it's not surprising to discover that just about everyone in the theater has had bouts of depression and to some extent is mentally ill. The main difference for her, however, is her chemical imbalance and how she abused alcohol and drugs to cope with her illness and with her emotional insecurities. For anyone who has had exposure to any of these things, this show does give some insight, but more importantly it offers a much-needed cathartic release from the tension society still holds around mental illness and addiction.

In doing a Google search before I wrote this, I came across an interesting blog post called "Star Wars, Stigma, and Carrie Fisher" by Simone Hoermann, a psychologist and professor at Columbia University, who saw the show a few weeks ago. She also enjoyed it and, from a professional perspective, found herself appreciating Fisher's candid take on mental illness. She ends by writing: "My hope is that there can be a growing dialogue about these questions [on mental illness]. My hope is also that, in talking about mental illness, celebrities like Carrie Fisher can help fight the stigma. And it wouldn't have to be in a galaxy far, far away. This one would do just fine."

Here is a link to the official website for Wishful Drinking, where Fisher has a short video about the show. If you're in the City and have a chance to see it, definitely go.

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