"Spit Like a Big Girl" by Clarinda Ross at ART Station February 15-24, 2019
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Title: Home Movies
"Spit Like a Big Girl" is an autobiographical work. In it, Clarinda Ross traces the journey of her life from childhood to the independence of her developmentally delayed daughter. Her father’s death occurred shortly before the birth of her daughter, and a search for his will turned up his journals. The first act revolves around this period of her life, relating memories triggered by journal entries written by her "educated redneck" father and filling in her early family life. Angelica Spence portrays Clarinda in this act, and her tremendous energy and vocal gifts bring a lot of spark into what is basically an actress trapping you in a corner and spilling out her life story.
In the second act, Ms. Ross portrays herself, and the story’s focus moves from the deaths of her father and boyfriend to the birth of her daughter, who is discovered to be developmentally challenged at her third birthday. The struggles of a mother attempting to get proper medical and therapeutic care for her child has the most emotional resonance in the show. Ms. Ross had a lot of support in raising her daughter, including a second husband (the alcoholic first husband having been divorced), various live-in help, and an older Chinese woman. The privileged life of Ms. Ross in L.A. counteracts some of the trauma of dealing with uncooperative health care personnel. The transition of her daughter to a group home ends the show.
David Thomas has directed the show to have lots of variety and movement. The set by Michael Hidalgo consists of a couple of low platforms, three alphabet blocks, and four chairs configured as automobile seating. When the actress is seated, sightlines are not necessarily good for all members of the audience. Lighting, though, does a nice job of heightening special moments. A projection screen upstage is used minimally to illustrate various moments.
The title of "Spit Like a Big Girl" derives from the routine Ms. Ross used to help her daughter Clara learn to brush her teeth. It suggests a storyline with an optimistic arc, but this storyline has more than its share of deaths and sorrow. "Spit Like a Girl" is definitely more bittersweet than sunny. It’s nicely acted, but filled a bit too full with the actor-y ego of the author.