Talented playwright Jonathan Spector has achieved the almost impossible. He’s created an exceptional play that is laugh-out-loud funny, yet with an intelligent and introspective perspective.
On an external level, Eureka Day is a hilarious send-up of Berkeley’s quintessential form of political correctness, which has slowly and surreptitiously insinuated itself into all our lives. On a deeper level, the two-hour, two-act, production examines the depressing and surprising results when people of good will suddenly realize that they have a fundamental and unsolvable disagreement with each other because their context, their experiences and, ultimately their “facts,” are so diverse.
Set in the present day, Eureka Day is a Berkeley private school largely run by the well-meaning but hopelessly pretentious and politically correct executive committee of parents. The team-building school leader, Don (Rolf Saxon, After the Revolution, Talley’s Folly), who is quick to reach for his easel board, begins each meeting with a quote from Rumi, which he follows with a brief eye-closed meditation. Since the committee acts only by consensus, meetings are understandably long, what with their self-serving pronouncements and rules of behavior such as, “… we only use non-gender pronouns …”
The newest committee member is Carina, a woman (Elizabeth Carter), who is tentative at first. Eli (Teddy Spencer, Talley & Son) is an independently wealthy stay-at-home dad who spends too much time with committee member Meiko (Charisse Loriaux), a single mother. Suzanne (Lisa Anne Porter) takes up a lot of self-righteous time and space at the committee meetings, and is the parent who, when a mumps epidemic breaks out at the school, vehemently objects to implementing the state-mandated MMR vaccination protocols. She’s what is referred to as an “anti-vaxxer.”
In an effort to reach the required unanimity, the committee seeks parental input and organizes a school-wide “Community Actuated Conversation” on Facebook Live, with parents watching and listening to the committee speak, while the parents message in their comments. Within minutes, all decorum flies out the window as the parents’ messages crisscross each other faster and faster as they become more heated, rude, scattered and off-point, all in such a mockingly amusing and true-to-life manner that I fear Jonathan Spector will never be able to attend another school meeting again.
The second act transforms into a more somber, even poignant mood as the mumps epidemic and vaccine controversy grows more critical. Eureka Day does not advocate a point of view about vaccination. Rather, the subject is used as a vehicle to explore the shock when one realizes that those who were thought to be like-minded, are not, and the intractable situation that occurs when adversaries realize there is no suitable compromise because their perspectives are irreconcilably dissimilar.
Director Josh Costello (Detroit, Wittenberg, The Heir Apparent) is terrific at keeping all the balls in the air and messages flowing. The cast is excellent and it’s small enough to make the best of Aurora’s unique stage.
Eureka Day is the first commission of Aurora’s new Originate+Generate program, where playwright Jonathan Spector was a two-time winner of Aurora’s former Global Age Project. His new comedy, Good. Better. Best. Bested starts in June at San Francisco’s Custom Made Theatre. Based on the inventive, humorous and heartbreaking Eureka Day, I look forward to seeing many more of his creations.
Eureka Day runs through May 20. For information, extended performance dates and tickets, visit the Aurora Theatre online.