Looking for a show about death, cows, and mother-daughter bonds? Well, look no further, After I'm Dead You'll Have to Feed Everyone by Vivien Straus tells the story of her late mother's life fleeing Nazi Europe in 1939. Her mother became a cow farmer in California and a leader in agricultural legislation.
Vivien Straus's mother, Ellen Straus, married Vivien's father within two weeks of knowing him. She moved from NYC to their California dairy farm in Marin County. Eventually, developers discovered the coastal farming area and planned to buy the farmland. This is when Ellen steps in. She co-founded the Marin Agricultural Land Trust and fought to keep the local landscape rural. She won the fight and received many awards for stewardship of the land. Vivien grows up on her family's farm, surrounded by cows. She peppers stories of farming life throughout the script, along with enlightening "cow facts" that relate to the text at hand. The script tackles all topics, heavy and light with comedy. This comedic tone allows the discussions of death and dying not to feel so dark. The nonlinear story structure at times felt hard to follow. With more flow and segue, the script could feel natural in performance and more compelling.
Straus plays many characters in this solo show, most notably her mother. By the show's end, I felt like I knew her mother. Both Vivien and Ellen are portrayed as very likable characters and people the audience can easily care and root for. Straus's comedic timing and delivery allows for many moments of hilarity. She is a powerful performer, grabbing the audience's attention and not letting it get away.
My only qualm with Straus's performance is her need for memorization. In several moments of the play, she had to ask for a line and receive a prompt to get her back on track with the text. In many other moments, she appeared to search for her words and take pauses that felt motivated by not knowing what comes next rather than pauses inspired by the storytelling. It is unfortunate she wasn't familiar enough with her script, as this calling for line took away from the overall professionalism of the piece.
This show is a moving tribute to an environmental pioneer. It explores the legacy of a life looking out for the little guy. Heartfelt in both its moments of comedy and sincerity, Straus creates a moving memorial to her mother while informing the audience about farm life. It is impossible to come away from this show not loving cows and the Straus family.
"After I’m Dead, You’ll Have to Feed Everyone"
Written and Performed by Vivien Straus
Directed by Elly Lichenstein
The 15th United Solo Festival
September 25- November 19, 2023
410 West 42nd (btw 9th and 10th Avenue)
Carmen! is a trans-multimedia artist specializing in playwriting, acting and crochet. Originally from Jacksonville Beach, Florida, they are currently based in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, returning to their Atlantic Oceanic roots. Their play Taking the Plunge has been performed at the Tank and the Chain off-Broadway and in the 2023 Fresh Fruit Festival slated this June. Carmen has also worked in front-of-house and technical positions for prominent theater organizations including New Dramatists, Portland Playhouse, Emursive and Future Proof. Carmen’s mission is to use play to create meaningful representation by and for underrepresented communities. For more information on Carmen! Follow them on socials @carmenacetosociety or check out www.carmenburbridge.info