I watched Carrie Fisher in her one-woman show Wishful Drinking on April 18, 2009, at the Seattle Repertory Theatre in Seattle. It was several months before the show moved on to Broadway, where it would play for a limited run through January 2010.
I remember being astounded by the piece in several ways – first, Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia!) was in front of me. Live. And she was speaking to me. Well, at least she was speaking to the audience. And she was the same as she was in the movie. The same … but different.
She was heavier; her voice was harsher. She was older. Her onstage persona was a combo of cosmopolitan verve and school of hard knocks. The show, which was based on her life experiences, was funny, yes, and also exceptionally revealing. She had not had a dull life.
She wasn’t so much explaining how things were for her – she was clocking you on the head with them. This wasn’t as bad as it sounds. She was telling her story and you better well listen. She flung the words at you, daring you to judge.
But she did it with so much wry humor, so much spirit, that you couldn’t really help yourself but laugh. And maybe cry a little, too, because sometimes it’s just too much. Addiction, harassment, mental illness, man problems. She’d kinda run the gamut, and yet here she was in front of hundreds of people, demanding to be heard. Demanding our respect.
I think one reason women were and are drawn to Princess Leia was because she was respected. And that respect did not come from wearing pink gowns or a tiara. Leia knew what she had to do and she was going to do it, and the men in her circle got that. It’s what we’d all like as women – princesses or not.
The most memorable moment of Wishful Drinking came right before intermission. Ms. Fisher was recounting the struggles she felt watching her face and body, her image, being used by the Star Wars empire. She wasn’t getting the merchandise residuals she felt were her due. She was frustrated that she had no say in what products were being licensed.
And then, the coup de gras that laid that point home for us all: a life-sized, plastic blow-up doll, a sex toy in Leia’s/Fisher’s exact specifications flew down and landed next to her. Such a point was never so well illustrated. The appalling situation of having yourself made into a sex object without your approval and without even receiving compensation for the humiliation.
And yet, there she was. Standing next to it. Owning it. Pointing out its absurdity. Saying through her theatrical work that you can objectify me all you want, but I’m bigger than this piece-of-plastic freak show and I’m still here.
We tend to think of princesses as people in need of rescue, but part of Leia’s charm, and Fisher’s, too, was the knowledge that they would not need rescuing. Indeed, we thought, perhaps they would rescue us.