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Jewish Journal

Leave the Czech

by Mike Levy

January 3, 2002 | 7:00 pm

Vivien Straus grew up on a 660-acre kosher, organic dairy farm on the outskirts of a town of 50 in Marin County. She once ran away from home when her parents told her that she had to marry someone Jewish. But the life-changing experience that inspired her play, "Getting It Wrong," was a date she had with a Czechoslovakian refugee in San Francisco. It started one night in 1979 -- and ended one day in 1982.

"Getting It Wrong" is Straus' true-life, one-woman show about this man who came to dinner and stayed. Boleslav, the Czech political refugee she met one night, fit her father's description of the man she should be looking for.

"To find a husband, you must look for two specific things," he had told her. "He must have sparkly eyes and a soul."

For Straus, this meant a European, like her Hamburg-born father. So she let Bollie walk her home. He kissed her goodnight, then stayed at her apartment. For much of the play, Straus cannot decide if she wants him to leave.

Though she eventually tries various schemes to get him out of her life, Bollie's limited English, wonderful cooking and apparently unconditional love for her makes escape difficult.

In all, 12 characters flow in and out of this story, including mom and dad back on the farm, a quirky San Francisco neighbor and a voice in the sky that tells her: "This is your fate."" Straus plays each role with subtle changes of posture, lighting and, of course, voice to define the different characters.

Though she is still nervous about playing her own parents, she said, " A person like Bollie is very easy. He's such a distinct character and so bizarre."

And, remember, he is real. Though Straus finally went to New York (before moving to L.A. in 1987) in part to end the relationship, she still occasionally trades e-mail with the man she calls Boleslav in the play. He lives in Italy now and is married with two children.

Straus, 44, remains single. "I guess I haven't learned my lesson," she said.

She is in closer contact these days with her director, local solo theater guru Mark Travis. Travis, who has helped shape solo shows like Chazz Palminteri's "A Bronx Tale" and Wendy Kamenoff's "Undressing New Jersey," agreed to direct "Getting It Wrong" while Straus was still developing the story in his theater workshop. Betty Barlia is the producer.

When she is not working on the play, Straus gets it right at her full-time job as marketing director for the Straus family dairy farm. From her Echo Park home, she writes the newsletter for customers and keeps the web site, www.strausmilk.com, up to date with butter, yogurt and cheese news.

She has always been an actress, though. Her film roles have included "Thirteen Days," "Heaven and Earth" and "Peggy Sue Got Married."

Straus is still not sure if she'll have told her former doppelganger beau about the play by the time it opens on Jan. 11.

"I don't think he'll be upset," she said. "I just don't want that pressure -- at least until I talk to a lawyer."

"Getting It Wrong," Jan. 11-Feb. 17 at Two Roads Theatre, 4348 Tujunga Ave., Studio City. $15. Fri. and Sat. at 8 p.m., Sun. at 7 p.m. For reservations or more information, call (310) 289-2999, or visit www.gettingitwrong.com.

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