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Latinas shine in IAMA Theatre’s spotlight. How two solo shows dig into identity

Anna LaMadrid in IAMA Theatre's "The Oxy Complex."
(Shay Yamashita / Take Creative)

In a pandemic that forced many to shelter in place alone, two one-woman streaming productions from L.A.'s IAMA Theatre feel more than fitting. For stars Anna LaMadrid and Sheila Carrasco, the COVID-19 pandemic has proved a time for reflection — and each uses her show to explore identity and personhood from a Latina perspective.

“The Oxy Complex,” written and performed by LaMadrid and directly by Michelle Bossy, takes place on the 500th day of shutdowns. It opens with the character Viviana tossing and turning in bed; her thoughts, told through voice-over, reveal how lonely she is and that she broke up with her long-term boyfriend just before the pandemic.

LaMadrid takes on different characters in Viviana’s life, from her close friend Saavi to the “love scientist” Dr. Oye Me, who exists inside Viviana’s head to process her feelings. There are flashbacks to Viviana’s life before COVID-19, interspersed with present-day moments, during which she gets back into dating apps.

Viviana’s loneliness is piercingly relatable. But pandemic aside, the compelling show has a lot to say about navigating relationships, romantic or familial. LaMadrid has a firm grasp on each of the characters. While Viviana is at the core of the narrative, LaMadrid especially shines through the supporting characters, each illustrated in bold and commanding style.

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The show falters only in structure. The interweaving of flashbacks and characters can be a strength, but the flow of scenes sometimes feels disjointed. LaMadrid covers a lot of ground in theme and topic, but the sequence sometimes lacks fluidity.

Sheila Carrasco in IAMA Theatre's "Anyone But Me."
(Shay Yamashita/Take Creative)

Carrasco’s “Anyone But Me,” on the other hand, presents a different kind of structure — one without an overarching narrative. Directed by Margaux Susi, Carrasco plays different women, each dealing with her identity, in a string of short vignettes. Characters include a grocery store clerk who has a secret affinity for art and a Latina who plays up her small percentage of Native American ancestry.

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Carrasco takes on the roles with skill and precision. Her physicality — the way she uses body language and facial expressions to distinguish each character vividly — is so natural as to be invisible. Carrasco can even persuasively embody a teenager, as she does in the last vignette of the show. The teen is figuring out just how abusive the behavior of her boyfriend is, and she expresses a desire to be someone she isn’t — someone who stands up for herself. Those kinds of desires can begin so young and — as we see through characters of all ages — never go away.

Both shows have stellar direction. Bossy in particular, free from the limitations of a stage, makes the most of the freedoms of a digital show. LaMadrid and Carrasco are such strong performers, we’re left to imagine how they might have shined even more brightly in front of a live audience. Until that day comes, “The Oxy Complex” and “Anyone But Me” provide us with some much needed company.

'Anyone But Me' and 'The Oxy Complex'

Where: Streaming on demand through IAMA Theatre

When: Through April 18

Tickets: Single show is $15 per person or $25 for multiple people on one device; both shows purchased together are $25

Info: www.iamatheatre.com

Running time: Each show runs about 1 hour, 5 minutes

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