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Thursday, January 31, 2008 | return to: news & features


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Been there, drank that: Carrie Fisher’s solo play swills it all

by dan pine, staff writer

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Actress Carrie Fisher never was much of a tabloid queen, but she sure could have been. Hollywood brat. Married to Paul Simon. In and out of rehab. Her second husband left her ... for another man.

And of course, there's that Princess Leia get-up. Not the white nun's habit from the first two "Star Wars" films, but the gold lamé bikini Fisher wore when she played slave girl to Jabba the Hutt.

Classic.

Factor in her other careers as writer, mother and good-humored raconteur, and it's no wonder Fisher decided to tell her life story on stage in a one-woman show.

"Wishful Drinking" makes its Bay Area premiere at the Berkeley Rep. It opens Feb. 8 for a seven-week run.

The show debuted in 2006 in Los Angeles. For the new run, Fisher teamed up with Berkeley Rep artistic director Tony Taccone to re-imagine the play top to bottom.

But all the good stuff is still in there. Her charmed life as daughter of legends (her parents are Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher). Her struggles with addiction and bipolar disorder. And her literary triumph with novels like "Postcards From the Edge."

"It's a question of which stories do you tell," Fisher said while in Berkeley for rehearsals. "I wanted to make it not only about me, but bring the audience in a little bit. That was something Shirley MacLaine told me, a good person to listen to."

Though her novels are thinly veiled autobiography, this time, it's pure truth — warts and all. How does Fisher handle that level of personal exposure?

"It's not difficult," she said. "It's actually in a way a relief, a way of connecting to people, and that's the best thing we can do with our words and conversation: Connect to another human being and find ways you are similar, and not feel so much of an outsider. It's good to be known."

Fisher's Jewish background isn't so commonly known. She says she has early memories of her father singing in synagogue, something that had "a big effect" on her. Today, as a single mother, she and her 16-year-old daughter often attend Friday night services and Shabbat meals with Orthodox friends.

"There's such a loveliness to lighting candles and saying what you're grateful for that week. It's beautiful."

Ever the artist, when asked about Judaism, she starts singing "Hearts and Bones," a song her ex Paul Simon wrote for her back in 1983.

The lyrics read in part: "One and one-half wandering Jews/Free to wander wherever they choose."

Fisher has certainly embodied that. Her acting career includes roles in "When Harry Met Sally," "Hannah and Her Sisters" and "Sex and the City." Her debut book earned her a Pen Award for best first novel. And she has long been one of Hollywood's most sought-after script doctors.

But she has had her share of struggles, including battles with drugs and alcohol. In 2005, a close friend, gay political operative R. Gregory Stevens, was found dead of a drug overdose in her bed in her Beverly Hills home.

Somehow it all becomes fodder for her wit.

"If you can't relate to the events of my life, you can relate to the feelings," she said. "My [background] is unique, but it's still family, and you respond to things as a human. It's my humanity I try to get into the show as much as possible."

After the Bay Area run, Fisher hopes to take the show to other cities including New York City's Great White Way. Branching out into theater is gratifying to her, but she worries that "Wishful Drinking" will keep her away from home for too long.

"When I grew up, my mother worked all the time, so I didn't see her as much as I would have liked," she said. "I didn't want that for Billie. I spent the last 15 years of my life really just completely about my daughter. I didn't work a lot of the time just so I could be with her."

To illustrate just how dedicated she was, Fisher says she even learned to cook so her daughter would have what Fisher calls "mother-like memories." Her specialty? Soufflés.

As for bequeathing her daughter religious values, Fisher noted Billie "has had more exposure to Judaism than any other religion."

So much so that when she and her daughter were driving around a few years back, her daughter pointed to a church and asked, "What is that?"




"Wishful Drinking" plays 8 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays; 7 p.m. Wednesdays and Sundays; 2 p.m. matinees Thursdays and Sundays, Feb. 8 through March 30, at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, 2015 Addison St. Tickets: $13.50-$69. Information: (510) 647-2949 or online at berkeleyrep.org.


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