A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, Carrie Fisher grew up on a planet called Hollywood.
It was a place that was a little bit like the rest of America, but different in key particulars. The house where young Carrie and her brother, Todd, were raised had eight miniature pink refrigerators, she says, so the family would be prepared "if Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs came to visit." The grounds of the estate had three swimming pools "in case two broke."
And how would Fisher describe the year her celebrity parents, actress Debbie Reynolds and singer Eddie Fisher, divorced (she was 2) and the breakup made the tabloids?
"My friends call it the Star Wars," she says.
All this is chronicled in the performer's entertaining one-woman show, Wishful Drinking, running at the Lincoln Theatre in Washington courtesy of Arena Stage. Over more than two hours, Fisher covers such topics as growing up as a celebrity daughter and becoming a cultural legend (Princess Leia) at age 19. She also discusses her first marriage to singer-songwriter Paul Simon; her second marriage to Bryan Lourd, a talent agent who left her for another man; her struggles with bipolar disorder; and the traumatic discovery in 2005 that a close friend had died in her bed.
During the show, the audience laughs hard so frequently that it's only in retrospect it realizes many events have a tragic undercurrent.
"If my life weren't funny, it would just be true," Fisher says, "and that would be unacceptable."
In any autobiographical show, some distortion and fictionalization occur. That's true even if every line of dialogue is delivered verbatim.
Some anecdotes get included, but others are left out. Some events were painful when experienced but become funny in the retelling. One version of the truth is offered for public consumption, but it's fragmented and discrete.
So it's no surprise that the show has evolved considerably in the two years since Fisher began performing it. The performance now features a question-and-answer portion and lots of audience interaction, but Fisher has excised some material (about kissing Star Wars co-star Harrison Ford, among other things) and inserted new stories.
One of the funniest bits, however, remains unchanged: In "Hollywood Inbreeding 101," Fisher uses a blackboard to trace the tangled marital history of her parents, their combined seven spouses and their respective offspring.
Critics of early versions praised the witty, acerbic writing but noted that Fisher appeared uncomfortable on stage. It's true that her best talents are as a writer. It's no coincidence that Meryl Streep, not Fisher, played the heroine in Postcards From the Edge, the 1990 film version of Fisher's autobiographical novel.
But after two years of performances, the actress, 51, now seems at home in the theater. Her singing voice is a well-worn contralto, but it's apparent that she inherited some of her famous father's ability to shape a tune.
Designer Alexander Nichols' set undoubtedly helps Fisher feel comfortable. She is just slightly taller than 5 feet, and before the curtain rose, I feared the Lincoln Theatre's vast proscenium stage would dwarf her. But Nichols carved out a modestly scaled living room within that space, with a settee and a screen on which to display family photos. In addition, Fisher's forays into the audience make the 1,600-seat venue feel practically cozy.
The actress may also have been cheered at the sight of some old friends when she arrived at the Lincoln. It's not every opening that has Imperial Stormtroopers guarding the front door.
IF YOU GO
Wishful Drinking runs through Sept. 28 at the Lincoln Theatre, 1215 U St. N.W., Washington. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Wednesdays; 8 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $10-$74. Call 202-488-3300 or go to arenastage.org.