‘Wishful Drinking’: a woman under the influence

HBO Video is releasing a DVD of Carrie Fisher’s one-woman show “Wishful Drinking” that appears to have been recorded on an off night last year.

Fisher toured the country in the vehicle about her existence as a child of Hollywood — she made a stop at Hartford Stage early on — and then set up shop at Studio 54 in New York City for an extended run in 2009.

Although she became very well known in 1977 for her work as Princess Leia in the first “Star Wars” movie, Fisher’s career as an actress collapsed a few years later due to her substance abuse (eventually diagnosed as manic depression/bipolar disorder).

In the early 1980s, I attended a promotional party for the long defunct Hartman Theatre in Stamford where Fisher was brought up from New York City to be a luncheon guest along with a host of other bright young performers like Peter Weller and Karen Allen.

Fisher’s behavior at the affair was erratic (and much gossiped about) — shortly thereafter she departed early from the cast of the Broadway show “Agnes of God.”

The actress got her act together and returned to movies as a wry supporting player in films such as “When Harry Met Sally” and “Hannah and Her Sisters.” She also became a successful novelist and screenwriter (famous for her ghost-writing as well as the script for the 1990 screen adaptation of her book “Postcards from the Edge”).

“Wishful Drinking” takes us through the same biographical territory charted in Fisher’s thinly disguised autobiographical novel and movie.

She grew up the daughter of two hugely popular stars — Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds — whose marriage exploded in one of the biggest scandals of the 1950s. Debbie married badly two more times — losing millions of dollars in the process — and took Carrie with her to Broadway in an early 1970s revival of “Irene” that got the star back on her feet and launched the daughter’s career.

After a showy small role in “Shampoo” — as Warren Beatty’s youngest Beverly Hills bed partner — Fisher landed the “Star Wars” role and was on her (rocky) way.

One of the problems with “Wishful Drinking” is that we already know a lot about the writer-performer’s troubled life and she doesn’t dig very deep into this familiar material. Fisher is distressingly glib regarding anecdotes that were presented with much greater force and humor in “Postcards from the Edge.”

Fisher starts with some fairly recent history — a friend who suddenly died of an overdose next to her in bed — which she presents in a rambling manner that gets the show off to a sloppy start.

“Wishful Thinking” takes a long time to recover from this miscalculated opening. There are some wonderful moments, and witty lines, but the show gets bogged down in labored bits like Fisher’s “Hollywood 101” lecture on her family history.

The star is one of the best writers on the Hollywood scene, but she could have used something like the editing and structuring that theater critic-historian John Lahr brought to his work on Elaine Stritch’s “At Large” (perhaps the best of all the one-woman memoir shows of recent vintage).

Also, it’s a shame HBO didn’t capture Fisher earlier in her tour because she looks and sounds fatigued by more than two years on the road — who wouldn’t? — and often seems bored by her own life story.

Joe Meyers