PICK! ASR Theater ~~ “After I’m Dead:” a Daughter’s Moving Tribute

By Barry Willis

North Bay residents don’t often appreciate how unusual is the fact that Marin and Sonoma counties have so much open space so close to one of the world’s major cities.

Marin County has approximately 10% of the population as envisioned by real estate developers in the late 1950s and early ‘60s, who seriously imagined flattening the hills and crisscrossing the county with freeways feeding numberless housing tracts. They saw Marin as the potential Orange County of the north.

That avaricious program was stopped in its tracks by environmental activists like Ellen Straus, co-founder of the Marin Agricultural Land Trust.(MALT). The Amsterdam native came to the US in her teens, escaping the Holocaust. She married German-Jewish immigrant Bill Straus, and joined him on his dairy farm in Marshall, a small West Marin community near Tomales Bay.

…one of the best celebrations of life imaginable…

Through November 27, her daughter Vivien Straus gives a wonderfully poignant and at times laugh-out-loud funny tribute to her mom in a solo show called After I’m Dead, You’ll Have to Feed Everyone: The Rollicking Tale of Ellen Straus, Dairy Godmother.

Vivien Straus.

Ellen Straus passed away some 20 years ago but her legacy lives on. Part history, part reminiscence, part catharsis, part standup comedy, and all heart, After I’m Dead is a concise (slightly over one hour) tale of life on the very ranch where the show takes place. Vivien explores her relationship with her mother and family, and takes us through a grueling but heartwarming end-of-life ordeal. That may not sound like a recipe for a fulfilling theatrical experience, but Vivien has achieved sufficient distance to mine all the pathos and abundant humor, supplied with love that only a daughter can convey. It’s one of the best celebrations of life imaginable.

A career writer/actor/performer, Vivien conceived and polished this show with expert guidance from longtime North Bay actor/director/artistic director Elly Lichenstein, recipient of a lifetime achievement award from the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle, and the director of After I’m Dead. Straus’s timing and delivery are spot-on. She’s a confident performer delivering a deeply personal story, one that’s beyond effective.

Vivien Straus, daughter of Ellen Straus of Straus Family Creamery fame, stands among grazing dairy cows at her family ranch home in Marshall, Ca.

The venue is the beautifully restored old barn on the Straus Home Ranch, with room for—a guesstimate here—maybe 150 visitors. Early arrivals can enjoy a picnic from a food truck parked nearby and may enjoy tossing scraps to some of the lovely free-ranging chickens wandering from table to table.

It’s chilly this time of year—visitors should bring ample clothing and leave in plenty of time to get out to Marshall. There are no freeways in that direction, thanks mostly to unsung heroes like Ellen Straus, West Marin is served almost entirely by two-lane roads. It’s a sweet drive and destination. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.


ASR NorCal Executive Editor Barry Willis is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and president of the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle. Contact: barry.m.willis@gmail.com


ProductionAfter I’m Gone, You’ll Have to Feed Everyone
Written byVivien Straus
Directed byElly Lichenstein
Producing CompanyStraus Home Ranch
Production DatesThrough November 27th
Production AddressStraus Home Ranch, 22888 Highway 1, Marshall
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK?Yes!