Monday, October 12, 2009

Wishful Drinking and Mike Nichols

Wishful Drinking is the title of Carrie Fisher's one-woman show now being presented on Broadway. We saw it Saturday afternoon and enjoyed it all, especially her recounting of her experiences as the daughter of royalty - Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher - and, of course, all the silliness that goes with still being thought of by a substantial portion of the population as the one and only Princess Leia. Her willingness to speak frankly and humorously about her addictions and her mental illness are also a clear highlight and appeal a great deal to a large segment of the audience. Carrie Fisher actually has a marvelous way with words and an uncanny ability to take famous sayings or phrases and to turn them around or inside out. Her gift for words has now been demonstrated many times over as the author of some four books, but was on particularly impressive display in this performance. Her ability to relate to the audience and to improvise her script is similarly seamless.

But we were the recipients of a special treat (or two or three) when invited at the end of the performance to attend a post-performance discussion. We try not to miss these and vacated our mezzanine seats to sit in the orchestra section about 10 rows back. First, the stage director of the play came out and began to talk about how Ms. Fisher's performance has evolved over time. You couldn't help noticing, though, that they put two folding chairs on the stage, one for the stage director and one that remained empty. Could Carrie Fisher herself be coming out to chat after her own exhausting performance? The stage director spoke for another three minutes or so about performances in Boston, D.C., Berkeley, LA, Santa Fe, and San Jose, and how much Ms. Fisher likes to improvise every time she goes to a new place. And then Carrie Fisher appeared to much applause. From thereon, the stage director was ignored and Fisher fielded all the questions. She had the same charm and quick humor shown in her one-person show and told us how much her mother and father, who had each seen it several times, had enjoyed the show. A few more people spoke, including one who asked if she thought she would win the Tony, to which she could only reply with wry humor, "of course I do." Then someone from the middle of the 8th row asked to speak. They weren't going to give him the microphone because he was too far in, and Carrie said she would be able to hear him without the mike. Then she realized who was trying to make the comment and said something like, "Well, I'm going to shit a brick." Fisher got out of her chair and sat at the front of the stage as if she wanted to get a better look at the person in question. It turned out to be Mike Nichols, sitting there with a well disguised Diane Sawyer, who mentioned that he had seen an earlier version of the show, as it has been in development for two years, but that it must have gone through some wonderful changes because he now believed it had become "one of the greatest one-woman shows I've ever seen." Carrie Fisher responded appreciatively to Nichols' extremely positive review and seemed to drop her last layer of pretense as she listened to this great theatre and film director praise her show.

A New York moment. One of the greatest stage directors of our time deigning to join the folks at the post-performance discussion and then actually making a comment that drew the attention of the entire audience to his words and position in the theatre. He probably couldn't resist letting a friend know in this very public way how much the show had meant to him. He was, after all, the director of Postcards from the Edge, a film based on Fisher's first book that starred in the Fisher role a little known actress named Meryl Streep, and announced to the world that Carrie Fisher, as screenwriter and conceptualizer, was much more than a pretty face and attractive figure clad in a metal bikini.


  1. I love hearing about these sorts of encounters. There are only a couple of cities on earth where such a moment can occur.
    I have admired Mike Nichols since the Nichols and May days in the early '60s. Here's my Nichols moment, far less impressive but memorable for this out-of-towner. In February of 2000, we drove Felisa and two of her friends down to NYC from Providence for a little winter respite. One day we had a late lunch at the Russian Tea Room and who should be in the next booth but Mike Nichols. Propriety prevented me from actually slobbering on him, but it required all of my self control to keep my tongue off the floor. That's it. We ordered, he paid his tab and was gone. I had the borscht.