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Carrie Fisher's 'Wishful Drinking,' created at the Geffen, was a feat of 'incredible strength'

Carrie Fisher's 'Wishful Drinking,' created at the Geffen, was a feat of 'incredible strength'
Carrie Fisher developed her autobiographical show "Wishful Drinking" at the Geffen Playhouse in 2006. (Damon Winter / Los Angeles Times)

Years before "Wishful Drinking" debuted on HBO, Carrie Fisher first breathed life into her revealing, riotous one-woman show in an office at the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood.

Randall Arney, the theater's artistic director then and now, remembers the 2006 confab well.

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"Carrie came into the office and sat with us in what was a pitch meeting, effectively," Arney said Tuesday. "But before the meeting started, she sat and just told us stories and we were crying, we were laughing so hard. We kept thinking that we were getting ready to start the meeting, and we kind of came around to, 'Well, let's get the meeting started,' and she says, 'Well, that was it!'"

"And we said, 'Let's do it'" — the late Gil Cates Sr. was producing director at the time — "and she said, 'OK, great, now all I have to do is go write it.'"

Fisher's autobiographical show, which would run for eight weeks in L.A., then revived by the writer-actress for a production at Berkeley Repertory Theatre before she took it to Broadway, was honed by Fisher and director Joshua Ravetch in three weeks of rehearsal.

"The incredible strength it took to write it," Arney said, "then she had to learn it, and then perform it eight times a week. It was really an exercise in all kinds of stamina for Carrie."

Though the show told a lot, it didn't exactly tell all, he said. Some anecdotes were nixed because they "wouldn't be nice to somebody" if she shared them onstage.

Still, at the Geffen, "it ran gangbusters; we sold every ticket we had," Arney said, noting that Fisher had connected with theatergoers across the board.

"We found with 'Wishful Drinking' her appeal absolutely crossed all boundaries … men just love her, women absolutely love her, from young to old. She was just universally admired and loved and had such a unique brand of humor."

In a 2006 review, The Times' theater critic, Charles McNulty, called the show a "Beverly Hills yard sale of juicy anecdotes"  that "would defy credulity were it not for the very credible presence of its narrator."

Acknowledging that he was echoing many others' opinions, Arney remembered said narrator as "wickedly smart and so funny, and yet disarmingly and refreshingly down to earth."

He and Fisher had emailed occasionally in the years since the show's run at the Geffen, Arney said.

"We had talked in very early stages of some kind of sequel, perhaps, to 'Wishful Drinking,'" he said. "That's what's so sad and rueful about this, because she had so many more stories to tell."

Follow Christie D'Zurilla on Twitter @theCDZ.

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