Monday, April 6, 2009

Crazy Enough: Storm Large takes PCS by...well...storm

By Hollyanna McCollom

Last week at Portland Center Stage, things were a bit bittersweet. Just as news leaked out that they had “let go” their entire literary department (including Literary Manager Mead Hunter), Storm Large’s one-woman autobiographical show Crazy Enough was finally premiering in the Ellen Bye Studio. And while many within the Portland theatre scene were worried, angry or frustrated about the former, the latter was an occasion that left many of us feeling like Christmas had come early.
After months of workshops, re-writes and rehearsals, Large took the stage Friday night in a surprisingly stripped-down fashion. No booming announcement, no dress-cut-down-to-there, no drum roll. Just Storm.
Those of us who have watched Large rise from a cult star in the Portland clubs to a household name on reality TV’s Rockstar: Supernova know that she is a consummate entertainer. She’s brassy, sexy, and funny and oh yeah, the girl’s got pipes. The funny thing is, whether she’s playing to a packed house at Dante’s or to a sea of fans standing shoulder to shoulder in a warehouse, she somehow makes you feel as if she is sitting in your lap, tickling your ear with her breath. She’s engaging, yes, but it’s more than just that. Storm is like the opening riff of “Foxy Lady.” She’s the burlesque piano line in David Bowie’s “Time.” She is the bassline in “Come As You Are.” When she’s on the mic, she is everything you want her to be: Vulnerable, flirtatious and unabashed. It’s just that most of us never questioned why.
Crazy Enough is an impressive, funny and sad glimpse into the life that made Large so much larger than life. The songs that are sprinkled throughout the two-act show (co-written by Large and The Balls band member James Beaton) are delivered with the chanteuse’s signature panache. Some of them are bawdy, rock-heavy nods to her career of late; some of them are so heartbreakingly tender, you forget that she’s known for the hits “What The F*ck is Ladylike?” and “Where is My Mind?”.
Much of the show focuses on Large’s troubled relationship with her mentally ill mother, like the moment when she recalls her five-year-old fear of having a caused a relapse in her mother’s psychiatric health by being “too loud,” and makes a pact to be as silent as possible. Always more of a shrieking violet than a shrinking one, Large was a kid who probably thrived on noise and kinetic energy. So, your heart breaks when she then recalls driving her mother to tears and sobs of, “Stormy hates me!” because instead of greeting her with the usual flurry of screams and excitement, she twitches quietly in the corner, wanting to cry out, but terrified of crashing through her mother’s tenuous moments of sanity.

Little by little, you begin to understand how little Stormy grew into what she is today. She is never maudlin as she explains how pain, heartache and fear were pushed aside for sex, drugs, gallows humor and (eventually) rock and roll. The show never feels heavy handed or preachy, despite the fact that the message of survival is clear.
In one of the songs most popular (and infectious) songs, “8 Miles Wide,” she sings, “I am enormous. Get used to it. Everyone tells me I’m too much. Maybe its just you’re not enough.”
Large has knocked it out of the park here, finally crushing any post-TV whispers of her being just a flash-in-the-pan. With all the bawdiness, talent and charisma of a young Bette Midler and a personality that is both unapologetic and endearing, Large proves that she is destined to be one of the most electrifying performers of her time.

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