"There's a story in the show about getting an abortion from a married guy. It's not the best choice I've ever made—not the abortion, but fucking a married guy without a condom."
So mused Storm Large during an interview about her new show at Portland Center Stage (PCS), Crazy Enough. Phrases like this emerge fully formed from Large—as though there's a deranged little playwright constantly at work inside her head, scribbling lines that balance obscenity, insight, and a healthy indifference to what you might think of her.
It's easy to understand why Portland Center Stage's artistic director, Chris Coleman, approached Large to create a one-woman show: She's hot, funny, charismatic, talented, and well-spoken (if we define "well" broadly enough to encompass an unusually pointed way with an F-bomb). A rock singer who moved up from San Francisco in 2002 and soon had a popular weekly cabaret act with backing band the Balls, she has the distinction of having appeared both on reality television (Rock Star: Supernova) and in a mainstage musical (Sally Bowles in PCS' Cabaret).
It's a circuitous route toward respectability (if that's what writing and performing one's own autobiography at Oregon's largest regional theater implies), but Large's moment has come, with tickets to Crazy Enough selling fast to her loyal fanbase, which is newly bolstered by PCS subscribers eager to bask in the grit and authenticity promised by a gorgeous, six-foot tall, kinda-scary-but-weirdly-inspirational glamazon.
Crazy Enough, written by Large and directed by Coleman, hinges on Large's lifelong preoccupation with her own mental health. Frequent suicide attempts saw Large's mother in and out of mental institutions—and when Large was a kid, she was informed that her mother's condition was hereditary. Crazy Enough guides us through a life lived in the shadow of imminent insanity, from early experimentation with sex and drugs, through a struggle with heroin addiction, a career in music, a few epiphanies, and a dash of redemption.
Like any memoir, the story here is secondary to the way in which it is told—an interesting life does not guarantee interesting art. Autobiography is fraught with the danger of self-mythologization, requiring a performer to sidestep self-indulgence while maintaining narrative momentum. Suffice to say that there is little sidestepping in Crazy Enough, and little subtlety, either—Coleman is not exactly known for his light directorial hand, and the decision to dramatize certain scenes compromises the work as a whole.
When Large is simply telling us her story, in language that's funny and direct and insightful, it's an incredibly effective work from an uncannily charismatic and generous performer. When Large is showing us her story—when she's adopting childlike tones to impersonate herself as a kid, or writhing onstage to illustrate the grips of a heroin addiction—Crazy Enough rings false. Music alone would have lent sufficient dramatic ballast to the production—Large's strength as a singer is her ability to find the emotional core of any song, no matter how cheesy or familiar, and the songs included here generally work well to that end. The dramatic reenactments that pepper Crazy Enough, though, are simply awkward, creating a rift between Storm-the-storyteller and Storm-the-actor, and introducing an element of theatricality that's particularly jarring in a show predicated on frankness.
With tougher editing—most of the last act could go—and a tighter rein on Coleman's jazz hands, Crazy Enough could be a stellar musical monologue. As it stands, it's a flawed show made all the more frustrating by how good it could have been.