Not long ago in two theaters not far away, two wildly different stage shows opened that are both basically grab bags of amusing personal anecdotes, in one case from a second-generation movie star once played by Meryl Streep, and in the other from a Thai-American playwright whose last play was The Fabulous Adventures of Captain Queer. She's the actress formerly known as Princess Leia, and his name is Prince Gomolvilas, respectively.
Carrie Fisher's one-woman show Wishful Drinking premiered at Los Angeles' Geffen Playhouse in 2006. When it was announced as a late-breaking addition to Berkeley Rep's season, artistic director Tony Taccone said that he and Fisher would be working hard to tighten the show. It doesn't look like that work ever happened, or for whatever reason it simply didn't take.
A newly blonde Fisher comes in singing "Happy Days Are Here Again" over a video collage of tabloid headlines about her celebrity parents' marital troubles (like when her father Eddie Fisher left mother Debbie Reynolds for Liz Taylor) and her own hospitalizations for drug addiction and bipolar disorder.
It's a lot like having Fisher sitting in a living room regaling you with anecdotes about her fascinating life — which is both the appeal and the problem. It's a hoot for a while, but after a couple of hours of this you don't want to be rude but would really like to go home.
Fisher sits on a comfy chair and a couch chain-smoking and drinking Coca-Cola Zero. She drafts a front-row viewer to try the soda and demands that people buy it so Coke won't stop making it, as one of many forced audience-participation shticks throughout the evening. Every time she lights a clove she makes a crack about how the writer made her do it — the joke of course being that she's the writer.
The show's essentially a stream-of-consciousness showcase of gags she's developed and learned by heart through years of recovery speeches and awards ceremonies. The fact that both her parents and George Lucas were in the audience on opening night added some celebrity-roast zing to quips about them. But each section goes on too long, there's no narrative arc, and it's hard to imagine that this stuff is actually written down.
She breezes through her parents' ill-fated romances, the Star Wars anecdotes, her brief marriage to Paul Simon, having the father of her daughter tell her belatedly that he's gay, and even finding a friend dead in her bed in the morning. She refers often to her drug addiction and manic depression, not with any specific anecdotes but with a barrage of one-liners and flip parenthetical asides.
Her glibness is more than a defense mechanism — it's a survival skill.
"If my life weren't funny, it would just be true," she says, "and that's unacceptable."
There are worse ways to spend an evening than listening to Fisher's stories, but as funny and charming as she is, in the end her monologue is exhausting and less than fulfilling.
"I know we don't know each other that well, but that's going to change so much, you're going to feel like you have to divorce me by the end of the night," Fisher says. It's funny because it's true.
Ten blocks and yet light years away in Impact Theatre's pizza-parlor basement space, playwright-turned-storyteller Prince Gomolvilas and singer-songwriter Brandon Patton are doing a show that's also a random assortment of personal anecdotes and songs, but in their case it's random because the audience selects most of the playlist by luck of the draw.
This is the second time the two have done their Jukebox Stories show as part of Impact's season, and Jukebox Stories: The Case of the Creamy Foam adds a loose murder-mystery framing device that's mostly an excuse for audience guessing games to win fabulously cheesy prizes.
They take turns sitting back while the other does his thing, Gomolvilas reading his sister's MySpace profile or telling stories about encounters with Maury Povich and Green Day, and Patton accompanying himself on acoustic guitar for funny ditties about humoring a girlfriend, a disillusioning Green Tortoise trip, or a woman who seems gay but isn't. The pièce de résistance is Gomolvilas' hilarious tale about how an online review he wrote about High School Musical 2 being incredibly gay led to death threats from tween girls.
For all its unabashedly scattershot nature, Jukebox Stories hold together better as a theatrical evening than Fisher's Drinking does, with delightful running jokes, audience participation that actually works, a satisfying finale and showmanship bordering on hucksterdom. When Patton sings, "Help Me Get Paid to Talk About Myself," not only don't you mind the $15 you paid to hear them do just that, but you might come back again to see what's in the mix next time.
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