Times are tough for everyone, but America's cultural institutions are taking a beating. Last autumn's stock market crash put severe stress on the endowments of the major cultural trusts and the assets of private donors, and Oregon legislators even robbed the Oregon Cultural Trust to the tune of $1.8 million. Even successful organizations like Portland Center Stage—which in the past few months cut pay and laid off several employees, including beloved literary manager Mead Hunter—are feeling the squeeze. So it's fortunate that PCS's current production, an autobiographical monologue with songs by Portland's rock-'n'-roll valkyrie, Storm Large, is a guaranteed cash cow.
Crazy Enough has, like Ms. Large's last theatrical foray (2007's Cabaret), received an off-putting quantity of hype, and it is tempting to my inner evil critic to tear down that which has been so built up, but I can't. Crazy Enough, in which Large describes with vulgar humor her traumatic childhood experiences with her schizophrenic mother, slutty adolescence, heroin addiction, rejection from Lilith Fair, musical success and family reconciliation, isn't merely satisfactory—it's good.
Large performs on a faux-brick catacomb set—an unnecessary addition, but nice to look at—accompanied by her longtime collaborator James Beaton, plus a drummer and guitar player. Crazy Enough's dozen songs are dramatically better than those on Large's 2007 EP, Ladylike, which milked her reality-TV exploits with banal anger-pop numbers. Maybe it's because the material's more personal, but these tunes, from quiet lullabies to rip-roaring anthems, are both catchier and more true.
The show's only notable weakness is that it never answers the central question of all solo performances: "Why are you telling me this?" At the Armory, the answer is self-evident. Storm is performing because PCS Artistic Director Chris Coleman asked her to write a show about her life, and we are listening because she's Storm Large, and we know she's an interesting personality and dynamite singer. (Whatever you think of Large's outsize presence in Portland's media and politics, you can't deny that she is one hell of a performer.) If the show goes on tour, though, that question will demand a better-articulated answer.
SEE IT: Gerding Theater, 128 NW 11th Ave., 445-3700. 7:30 pm Tuesdays-Saturdays, also noon Thursdays, and alternating 2 and 7:30 pm Sundays. Closes June 7. $25.50-$48.50.