A Wishful toast to Fisher’s Drinking


The force is strong with this one.

Carrie Fisher’s Wishful Drinking, her one-woman stage autobiography, continues its wild ride.

The Bay Area saw the show twice at Berkeley Repertory Theatre before it landed on Broadway. The book with the same name was a New York Times bestseller. And now Wishful Drinking is an HBO documentary. Let the Star Wars nerds rejoice.

The show, subtitled “A one-woman show about being Carrie Fisher,” has its broadcast debut at 9pm Sunday, Dec. 12 and repeats through Dec. 28 (on HBO) and Dec. 29 (on HBO 2).

Visit HBO’s Wishful Drinking homepage here.

I don’t have HBO, so I’ll have to enjoy these clips from the movie and wait for the inevitable (as yet unannounced) DVD. There are more clips on the website.

Carrie Fisher strikes back, `Spelling Bee’ extends

We already knew that Carrie Fisher’s autobiographical solo show, Wishful Drinking, was headed to Broadway. What we didn’t know was that Fisher will be Drinking at Berkeley Repertory Theatre before heading for New York.

Wishful Drinking, a humorous re-telling of Fisher’s celebrity upbringing as the spawn of Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher as well her life as a space princess and acclaimed novelist and bipolar human, runs July 9-23 at Berkeley Rep in association with Jonathan Reinis, Jamie Cesa and Eva Price. Tickets go on sale May 24.

Visit www.berkeleyrep.org or call 510-647-2949 for information.

Can you spell H-I-T?

San Jose Repertory Theatre’s production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee has found the correct answer: produce a charming musical with a charming cast and crowds will come. The show has been extended through June 14.

The cast includes Molly Bell, Marc de la Cruz, Alison Ewing, Mark Ferrell, Clifton Guterman, James Monroe Igelhart, Steve Irish, Dani Marcus and Sophie Oda. Timothy Near, former SJ Rep artistic director, is in the director’s chair.

“We are delighted by the overwhelming public response to this production that has prompted us to extend its run,” said new artistic director Rick Lombardo in a statement.  “Coming on the heels of the extended run of The Kite Runner, it’s clear the Rep has some incredible momentum right now, and that our community is responding very positively to the work on our stage this season.  I’ve also been especially pleased to see so many young people attending the Bee and having a great theatre experience, and this extension will allow even more families and young people to share this experience.”

For information visit www.sjrep.com or call 408-367-7236.



Come on I wanna Leia: Fisher lands on Broadway

Another week, another Berkeley Repertory Theatre show going to Broadway.

Carrie Fisher’s autobiographical solo show Wishful Drinking, directed by Berkeley Rep artistic director Tony Taccone, will open in October at — where else? — Studio 54, where it runs through Jan. 3. The show is produced by Roundabout Theatre Company in association with Jonathan Reinis, Jamie Cesa, Eva Price, and Berkeley Rep.

This is the fourth show to head from Berkeley to Broadway in the last four years: Sarah Jones’ Bridge & Tunnel (2006), Stew’s Passing Strange (2008), and Sarah Ruhl’s In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play) (2009). It’s also the 12th show in as many years to make the West to East transition. The list includes Danny Hoch’s Taking Over (2008), Ruhl’s Eurydice (2007), Tony Kushner and Maurice Sendak’s Brundibar (2006), Naomi Iizuka’s 36 Views (2002), Mary Zimmerman’s Metamorphoses (2001), Hoch’s Jails, Hospitals & Hip-Hop (1998), Anne Galjour’s Alligator Tales (1997), and Philip Kan Gotanda’s Ballad of Yachiyo (1997).

“This is the culmination of a long process,” Taccone said in a statement. “Berkeley Rep has a history of developing new work and, with our commissioning program, continues its commitment to bring fresh ideas and alternative viewpoints to the stage. I am pleased with the success of this project, and honored to collaborate with all of the people involved to bring this show to Broadway. It has been truly gratifying in recent years to see our shows reach a wider audience in New York, Los Angeles, London, and other cities.”

Visit www.roundabouttheatre.org for Wishful Drinking ticket information.

Box-office boom

Some good news from box offices both national and local today. First the local.

According to Berkeley Repertory Theatre, coming to the end of its 40th anniversary season,
Nilaja Sun’s No Child… broke the box office record for single-day sales last Saturday (May 24). The previous record was set a couple of months ago by Carrie Fisher’s Wishful Drinking, and that show broke the record set a couple of months before that by Mary Zimmerman’s Argonautika. A happy 40th birthday indeed. By the way, No Child… has been extended a second time through June 11. See it if you can. Visit www.berkeleyrep.org for information.

Across the country, on a little boulevard I like to call Broadway, the box-office news is pretty good as well. The Broadway League announced today that the season just ended (May 28, 2007-May 25, 2008) took in $937.5 million, down slightly from the previous year’s total of $938.5 million.

League members said last season probably would have broken records were it not for the the stagehands strike, which shut down much of the Broadway theater scene for 19 days.

Here are the season stats, just in case you follow theater like some people follow sports:
36 productions opened on Broadway during 2007-2008:
8 new musicals
1 musical return engagement
4 musical revivals
11 new plays
12 play revivals
Paid attendance at Broadway shows was 12.27 million, down .2 percent from the previous season.

Charlotte St. Martin, executive director of The Broadway League, said in a statement: “While we are disappointed that we didn’t exceed last year’s record-breaking season, we are confident that in the coming season, with such big name shows on the horizon as Billy Elliot, Shrek, West Side Story and Equus, to only name a few, that we will have the best season in recorded history.”

Carrie Fisher hits the road

The force is most certainly with her.

Carrie Fisher, fresh from her hit Berkeley Repertory Theatre show Wishful Drinking, a one-woman autobiographical play, is taking the show on the road. And no wonder: in 9 1/2 weeks, the show took in $1.3 million.

Producer Jonathan Reinis is sending Wishful across the country. The first stop isn’t so far away, just down south a little at San Jose Repertory Theatre in July 23-Aug. 2. The next stop is across the country at the Arena Stage at the Lincoln Theatre in Washington, D.C. Sept. 5-28.

The rest of the tour is sort of a regional theater hopscotch: Lensic Theatre in Santa Fe, N.M. (June 18-22); Hartford Stage in Connecticut (Aug. 6-17); and Huntington Theatre Company in Boston (Oct. 14-26).

Wishful Drinking, a delightful evening of Fisher sipping Coke Zeros and telling tales from her Hollywood life, is directed by Berkeley Rep artistic director Tony Taccone, who recently has been specializing in solo shows. He directed Sarah Jones’ Bridge and Tunnel all the way to Broadway and a special Tony Award.

No one would be at all surprised to see Fisher end up on the Great White Way. In other good Fisher news, word is she’s adapting her most recent wonderful novel, The Best Awful (sort of a sequel to Postcards from the Edge) for HBO.

Since leaving Theatre on the Square (now the Post Street Theatre) in San Francisco, the Berkeley-based Reinis has been a busy man. He’s also touring Jane Anderson’s The Quality of Life starring JoBeth Williams and Laurie Metcalf. That tour opens in October at American Conservatory Theater.

Could this be the future of touring theater — bypassing the commercial stage and taking advantage of the regional theaters’ nonprofit status and subscription audiences?

Review: Carrie Fisher’s ‘Wishful Drinking’

Opened Feb. 19, 2008 at Berkeley Repertory Theatre

Sex, drugs, drinking, celebrity: Fisher tackles it all in Wishful Drinking
three 1/2 stars

Her mother is famous for, among other things, a movie musical with Gene Kelly and buckets of rain. Now Carrie Fisher is, in a sense, carrying on her mother’s legacy, though she’s singing in the pain.

The central mantra of Fisher’s beguiling one-woman show, Wishful Drinking, now on Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s Roda stage, is “If my life weren’t funny, it would just be true. And that is unacceptable.”

She’s right. Life is too strange and difficult not to have a sense of humor. As Fisher says in the show, when she finds her teenage daughter laughing about her crazy family, she’s glad her daughter can laugh. “That may save your life.”

A wicked sense of humor has been the making of Fisher, whose glittering opening night audience reflected much of what she was talking about in her autobiographical show. There were your basic movie stars – Sean Penn, James Franco. Your music legends – Bonnie Raitt. And the man who Fisher jokingly says “ruined her life,” George Lucas, father of the Star Wars saga and creator of Princess Leia, the role that will follow Fisher to her grave (with stops at comic book conventions along the way).

And then there were Debbie and Eddie. The two people Fisher talks about most, her mother, Debbie Reynolds, and father, Eddie Fisher, were there on opposite sides of the mezzanine. With her on the right, him on the left and Fisher in the middle on stage, it was real-life, Hollywood-theatrical Surround Sound.

Fisher enters singing. While she warbles “Happy Days Are Here Again,” headlines from her storied past flash on the screen behind her (the cozy, high-tech set, the lights and the projections are by Alexander V. Nichols).

She jumps right into the tabloid fodder by addressing her most recent incident: A good friend, a gay man, died in her home. Not only in her home, but in her bed. With her in it. “He didn’t just die in his sleep. He died in mine,” she says.

After taking questions from the audience, Fisher goes back to her childhood and that one time her dad left her mom – for Elizabeth Taylor. But here’s the thing I didn’t know. Before the scandal, Eddie and Debbie were good friends with Elizabeth and her husband, Mike Todd. In fact, Eddie was best man at Mike and Liz’s wedding and Debbie was the matron of honor. Debbie even washed Liz’s hair on her wedding day.

This leads Fisher, with the help of a large chart, to hold forth on “Hollywood Inbreeding 101,” with her family and its assorted, mostly bad, marriages, as examples.

She imitates her mother (“Hello, dear, this is your mother, Debbie”) and makes fun of her father (“He’s had so many facelifts he looks Asian”). She smokes clove cigarettes (the writer of the show, some hack named Carrie Fisher, makes her do it, though the clove part is a concession to tetchy Berkeley audiences) and drinks Coke Zero on ice. She’s not shilling for the soft drink, she says. She really likes this diet soda, while most others, she maintains, “taste like drinking poison from an aluminum wound.”

Costumed (by Christina Wright) in a drape-y look somewhere between gypsy and high-class madam, the 51-year-old Fisher has a low, gravelly voice that’s not ideal for the theater (the microphone helps), but boy does that voice convey dark, cynical humor beautifully.

Fisher is hilarious, which is no surprise to anyone who has read her books (if you haven’t read her most recent, The Best Awful, do yourself a favor and pick it up). What’s more surprising is her good cheer. Even while talking about her failed relationships – divorced from Paul Simon, the father of her daughter leaves her for a man – and her mental illness (manic depressive, bipolar disorder), Fisher maintains a unique brand of bleak optimism, of world-weary hope: The worst will likely happen, but everything will just as likely be fine.

She has a brilliant mind and sharp comic timing. On the page, she tends to be a little brainier, but onstage, she’s full-on Catskills comedian. Whether she’s discussing Princess Leia while wearing the famous cinnamon-roll hair-do wig or molesting an audience volunteer, Fisher is someone you want to hang out with and listen to. The celebrity part of her life appeals to that silly “oh, look! Something shiny” aspect in us, but she’s got substance under the stardust.

She’s got a lot to say about our messed-up culture, about body chemistry, about families, about maturity. But she says it all in such a way that it all sounds like a well-honed comic monologue that just happens to have the incisive direction of Tony Taccone behind it.

I would have loved some more serious Fisher moments in the two-act, two-hour show, but maybe those just aren’t in the repertoire. I’d be very interested, for instance, to hear more about her time at drama college in London, which she says was the “only unobserved” period in her life.

Frank and forthcoming and, I’m delighted to say, occasionally filthy, Wishful Drinking is a theatrical memoir with a whole lot of kick to it. Fisher says that if someone called the show over the top, she’d have to agree. “But imagine what I’m leaving out.”

Wishful Drinking continues through March 30 at Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison St., Berkeley. Tickets are $33-$69. Call 510-647-2949 or visit www.berkeleyrep.org for information.

Looking ahead: Theater ‘08 highlights

There are some theater treats heading our way in 2008. Here’s a mere sampling.

The show I’m most excited about also seems the furthest away. The national tour of the Tony Award-winning musical Spring Awakening is slated to start sometime in the second half of the year, courtesy of SHN/Best of Broadway. Spring Awakening was the best thing I saw on Broadway last year, and I eagerly anticipate the tour and the chance to hear the Duncan Sheik/Steven Sater score performed by exciting young singer/actors.

A close second on the old excitement meter is Carrie Fisher’s Wishful Drinking, her autobiographical solo show coming to Berkeley Rep in February.

At SF Playhouse, Theresa Rebeck, a hot-hot playwright at the moment, arrives with the West Coast premiere of her The Scene starring “Melrose Place” alum (and Berkeley native) Daphne Zuniga. The show opens later this month.

At American Conservatory Theater, the most intriguing offering this spring is ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore, John Ford’s Jacobean tragedy about a brother and sister who fall in love…with each other. The show begins performances in June.

TheatreWorks in Mountain View ushers in the new year with Wendy Wasserstein’s final play, Third, which begins performances next week. But the real excitement comes in April when the company mounts Caroline, or Change, the astonishing Tony Kushner-Jeanine Tesori musical.

At Berkeley’s Shotgun Players, the summer show will be Beowulf: A Thousand Years of Baggage, but the big excitement comes at the end of the year when director Mark Jackson (Death of Meyerhold) returns to take a whack at Macbeth in December.

This summer, California Shakespeare Theater gives us some really good reasons to head into the Orinda hills: Jonathan Moscone directs Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband (July) and Timothy Near is directing Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya (August).

And this one is a little iffy, but should the fates conspire, Thick Description will bring back former Bay Area actor Colman Domingo (fresh from his Broadway turn in the musical Passing Strange) in his autobiographical solo show A Boy and His Soul. Proposed show run is July. Keep your fingers crossed.

The unsinkable Debbie Reynolds

It seems Debbie Reynolds has been around since show biz was invented — not show business, but, you know, SHOW BIZ! The razzley-dazzley, tap-dancing kind of show biz.

From her first big break in movies, as demure Cathy Selden opposite Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor in Singing in the Rain, Reynolds has been one of the happiest faces on screens large and small.

For one generation, she’s the Unsinkable Molly Brown and the spurned wife Eddie Fisher left behind for Elizabeth Taylor. For another generation, she’s a perennial guest star (“The Love Boat,” “Will and Grace”) and Las Vegas razzmatazzer. For still another, she’s the star of the children’s “Halloweentown” movies. Of course, some only know her as “Princess Leia’s mom,” which is to say, her daughter, Carrie Fisher, is nearly as famous as she is.

The 75-year-old Reynolds is still going strong, to put it mildly. She’ll be at San Francisco’s Herbst Theatre one night only Friday, Dec.7, at 8 p.m. Singing, dancing, joking and storytelling (or perhaps whe should say gossiping) will be on the Reynolds menu.

Tickets are $47.50 to $77.50. Call 415-392-4400 or visit www.cityboxoffice.com for information. The Herbst Theatre is in the San Francisco War Memorial and Performing Arts Center, 401 Van Ness Ave.

For information visit Reynolds’ official Web site at www.debbiereynolds.com. (And catch this, the home page plays “Tammy”!)

The Fisher queen

It’s old news by now that Carrie Fisher will be replacing Rita Moreno next spring in Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s 40th anniversary season.

Fisher will be doing her solo autobiographical show Wishful Drinking, and last week, she gave a press conference at Berkeley Rep with artistic director Tony Taccone, who will take over as director and help Fisher re-shape the show.

Below are some highlights from the press conference. A couple things you should know about Fisher. Her parents are Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher (who lives in San Francisco). She played royalty in a film called Star Wars (and its sequels). She has had substance abuse issues and has been in rehab. She has also been institutionalized for mental health problems. She’s a best-selling author (Postcards from the Edge, Surrender the Pink, Delusions of Grandma, The Best Awful). And she’s one of the sharpest, funniest women in Hollywood.

Here’s Fisher answering the question, “When did you start writing about your life?”

“When it started to get interesting. No, that’s not true. When I was an adolescent — not that life was interesting, just intense. It was a way to manage the intensity, a way to organize a disorganized emotional state, to take wet emotions and sort of dry them.

[When deciding what to write] I just decide what’s going to get me in trouble with my parents and grounded and what won’t. There are certain things I think are funny. One of the things I say is: If my life wasn’t funny, it would just be true, and that’s unacceptable. I think that’s true for everybody. To my mind, it ought to be.

There are things that are very painful, but if you can make them funny, it’s the best thing in the world, the only thing. When I’m not able to laugh about things it’s really mean things that are really bad. That’s always what I’ve tried to do. Find the funny things in sometimes tragic things, not that my childhood was tragic by any definition.”

Fisher on the influence of Star Wars:

“It follows me around like a vague, exotic smell. But it’s not … it would be the highest-class negative you could ever have. It was a nosebleed high-class problem to have that as a problem, to be identified with an iconic film for most of your life. The funniest version of that — I’ll be in an airport and someone will shout out, “Princess Leia!” as if I, at my age, 50, will go like this, “Yes?” That is how it remains in my life. It goes on and on and on. It’s funny to me. Necessarily funny. If it wasn’t, I’d be an angry person. There are other cast members, not that many, that really wanted to be taken seriously or wanted it to go away like some sci-fi rash or something like that. It refused to do so, and they just remain angry. That’s a really bad choice. I had fun making those movies. I’m proud to be in them. I love George [Lucas], and I love giving him awards now. He gets them all the time. I get to make fun of him. With this show I’ll get to make fun of him closer to home.”

Fisher responding to the question: “How honest are you in your show?”

Brutally honest. It’s a bloodbath. No, honest. Sometimes in my life I wish I hadn’t been so honest. But things are known. A version of events about me would go out — she was in rehab. This is me trying to control the material. She was in a mental hospital. I would like to try and control that material rather than have you assume what it was. I’ll tell you the funny version. It’s the long version of you noticing I’m overweight and me saying first, “I know I’m 10 pounds overweight.”

Fisher’s advice to Paris, Lindsay, Britney and their ilk:

“Swear to God, there seems to be some delight in living out this insane behavior in front of the paprazzi. If you live in a gated home, they can’t watch everything. They have a rapt audience in a lot of the population, but if they would stay home for some of this and get a driver…We were all this age. Very difficult to be this age. Never like this when I was young and doing substances. I don’t know that I would have survived it.
Paparazzi are crazy now. Get a lot of money for these pictures. That’s what starts it.
My advice is: Stay home. Get a driver. And wear underwear.”

Fisher on Natalie Portman, who played Princess Leia’s mother in the three “Star Wars” prequels (or whatever they are): “I wish I looked like her. I do run into her and say, `Hi, Mom.’ I’m not kidding. My ex, the father of my child, is her agent, so it makes us related in a way in Hollywood.”

Fisher on what kind of stories we can expect to hear in her show:
“Stories about different situations and experiences in my life — whether it’s my ex-husbands (I turned one of them gay by taking codeine — I never read that warning on the bottle — I thought it said `heavy machinery, not homosexuality.’ I could have been driving those tractors all along.) If things like that happen to you, all this stuff being true, I should write that down. That’s unusual. So, you know, I had unusual things happen in my life. My childhood with my lovely parents. My stepmother (Elizabeth Taylor) — I do a thing, my daughter went on a date with — this is very complicated –Mike Todd and Elizabeth Taylor’s grandson, so I pose the question, `Are they related?’ then trace the lineage with a blackboard.
I talk about Star Wars some, talk about alcoholism and mental illness, in theory — other people’s. What it would be like if I had those things. I talk about a man dying in my house, in my bed, which was unique. He was gay. He didn’t die in the saddle. That doesn’t happen to a lot of people. So, you know, things like that.

Fisher on her checkered theatrical career:
“I’ve done really bad theater. I went to the Central School of Speech and Drama, which I think you’ll notice in all my film work, a really theatrical horror. While I was there I got Star Wars. That’s why I have this slight English accent in the first film, which is really pretentious and embarrassing to this day.
I did a play called Censored Scenes from King Kong in New York. The review from Clive Barnes said we should all leave our agents it was so bad.
I was a chorus girl in my mother’s show Irene. I did a show at the Public, don’t think it even opened “Sleep AroundTown.” Replaced in “Agnes of God,” playing the nun with Geraldine Page and Elizabeth Ashley (at this point Fisher whispered conspiratorially: “On freebase”) That is my stage career. Good isn’t it? Oh, and, like most teenagers I did nightclub work with my mother in Vegas and Reno.