It all starts with a touching bedside lullaby drenched in COVID lockdown sadness and desperation. It certainly fits the room, one could say. In that bed and under that sleeping mask, the clock is ticking, literally inside her head, keeping her wide awake as all of her mother’s inherited anxiety about the future dance like sugar plum fairies inside her head. It’s the 500th day of quarantine, and the central character in Anna LaMadrid’s The Oxy Complex is, in a way, being visited by Carol-like ghosts throughout the night. But their voices are quite alive with ominous warnings of the present and the future. She doesn’t know if her wired, wide-awakeness is a result of hunger, boredom, or, more alarmingly, utter and complete loneliness, but essentially, LaMadrid knows that this framework is one we can all wrap our communal heads around. In that conflictual space, praying for one night of uninterrupted sleep (and I’m sure most of us know how that prayer goes), is where the center of this anxious-induced self talk one-woman play solidly exists, and LaMadrid dynamically unpacks this complication by engaging with (and playing) all of the numerous characters that visit her that night, and they seem to have a lot to say on the matter.
“I initially set out to examine the ways that technology interrupts our biology,” explains LaMadrid, best known for her sardonic, gum snapping “Jamie” in the critically acclaimed IAMA production of Bess Wohl’s American Hero. “But now that quarantine has taken away all our distractions and we have all this time on our hands, how do we reckon with ourselves? Viviana is a fictional character and her story is heightened, but the show is rooted in truth, drawn from personal experience and from other women I know.”
Watching this a few nights into my own self-inflicted quarantine after flying back from the winter on the West Coast of Canada, I found myself truly connecting with this “hella smart” exploration of love, sex, loneliness, trauma, and concepts that swirl around the hormone, Oxytocin, that seem to affect and infect us all. LaMadrid brings an authentic vibe and energy to each and every character she inhabits, especially the central one, Viviana, finding definition and connection to each sharp edge. “Ouff“, she exclaims with a ‘what just happened‘ complexity that sinks true inside our connective skins, thanks to some fine work by Camera Director/Video Editor Dane Wagner, with a strong production design by Justin Huen; lighting design by R. S. Buck; and sound design by John Nobori. Directed with a clarity of vision by Michelle Bossy (“Sarajevo’s Child” by Katie Simon), The Oxy Complex takes us inside Viviana’s confidence and unpacks it as easily as one drunkenly leaps into the complications of “transactional sex” and a wham-bam, out-the-door intimacy routine. But without the internalized shaming and the hangover.
The ‘cuddle’ hormone, as we are told by LaMadrid, certainly is having its way with us, particularly because no one else is during this pandemic. Her honest confusion and engagement with her mother or her wild (and wonderfully created) friend deliver the goods unapologetically and with clarity. “All this to say“, the classic symptoms of this ‘love’ hormone addiction, delivered by LaMadrid in a solidly appropriate British professional accent, makes all the “skin hunger” frustration feel right and vital, while also filling us in on the medical and historical aspects of this paradox of choice we all find ourselves. It’s a deliciously fun balancing (one) act, that might be a tad too long to hold our attention all that deeply, but is far more satisfying than sweet and together puppy love. And it’s just as good and fulfilling as a 30 second hug. (Can I get mine now, please?)
This isn’t a gender specific problem, even if this show feels definitely skewed to the female predicament, but as The Oxy Complex unpacks this “pussy buffet” problem with epic and clear strong writing, the reality of our attachment and engagement-style issues, specifically: dating apps, sexual interactions, and coupling dynamics; become more and more clear that the true problem is and has been solidly entrenched deep within our culture long before that first COVID lockdown. Love, actually (sorry, both she and I had to do it), is getting harder and harder to nail down. Easy to get nailed, but not as easy to understand and unpack. But LaMadrid has a good go at it, and even if the territory isn’t all that new or uniquely personal, spending a night, as sleepless as it is, with LaMadrid is a joy and a pleasure to behold. She’s as “hella smart” as it comes.
The Oxy Complex, written and performed by Anna LaMadrid, directed by Michelle Bossy, was filmed live at L.A.’s Pico Playhouse and premiered virtually on March 21, 2021, at IAMA Theatre Company online in rep with IAMA‘s other one-woman show, Anyone But Me, where they will continue to stream online through April 18, 2021.
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