“When I can’t figure out what to do, I ask myself how a cow would do it,” writer-performer Vivien Straus declares at the beginning of her solo autobiographical show, “E-i-E-i-Oy! In Bed with the Farmer’s Daughter.”
She is only partly kidding.
She has come by that bovine know-how honestly, having been raised on the Straus family’s Marin County dairy farm, known for its organic products. Her parents, Jewish European immigrants, arrived here before the Holocaust. Now the younger generation is carrying on the agricultural tradition they established.
Directed by Brian Glenn Bryson, the story Straus tells onstage at Noh Space in The City, narrating and re-enacting, is of an ill-advised first romance with a Czech refugee whom she met when she moved to San Francisco in the late 1970s.
A naive farmer’s daughter in the big city — whose beloved dad advised her to look for a man with “sparkling eyes and a deep soul”— she’s drawn to the demonstrative Boley. When he moves into her apartment, she feels trapped but helpless. He simply won’t move out.
In the course of about an hour, Straus embodies not only her own younger self, but the swaggering Boley, her father and assorted others, skillfully moving through their various physicalities and several different foreign accents. She is rueful and endearing.
Throughout, she cleverly interjects lessons learned on the farm that seem to apply equally, and hilariously, to her dysfunctional relationship with Boley, whose presence in her life becomes increasingly untenable.
Upon first glimpsing the alluring but shady Czech: “A heifer stops still when she’s in heat.”
And more: “If cows feel trapped, they might get aggressive.”
When she at last brings her lover to a family gathering: “Introducing a new animal to the herd is always difficult ...”
Only when she breaks the fourth wall to sheepishly, and needlessly, comment on the inexplicable — why she stayed with Boley for so long — does she jar us out of our emotional involvement with her plight.
Also, at least on opening night, she paused occasionally for no justifiable dramaturgical reason. Otherwise her timing was pitch-perfect.
The talented Straus has other true-life tales of growing up Jewish on a dairy farm; she promises her next one will be about her mother. (And she leads a tasting tour of Cowgirl Creamery in Petaluma on Wednesday mornings through September.)
E-i-E-i-Oy! In Bed with the Farmer’s Daughter
Where: Noh Space, 2840 Mariposa St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; closes May 10