David Roberts, Chief New York Critic
What could go wrong at a private school whose board of directors (all five of them) make all decisions based on consensus and have only what benefits the community at heart? A board so committed to inclusion that the school’s cultural identity drop-down menu for prospective parents offers eleven choices. And if Eli (Brian Wiles) has his way, because of his “deeper learning” around the issue of inclusivity, the list would include “transracial adoptee.” What could go wrong? The undercurrents in this opening discussion foreshadow fissures in the Eureka Day primary school’s foundations of “social-emotional learning, social justice and developing the whole child” and an open pathway to moral ambiguity.
Jonathan Spector’s “Eureka Day,” currently running at Walkerspace through Saturday September 21, is a complex and thoughtful trope for the upside and downside of such moral ambiguity and challenges the audience to come to terms with issues of “fact-based” decision making, inclusion, feeling seen and not othered, gender neutral pronouns and how these important concepts factor into dealing with a crisis in the community. What happens, indeed, when a mumps outbreak at the school forces the board to examine the facts about vaccinating infants and herd immunity? And what happens when two children of board members contract the mumps, the memory of one child of a board member who dies after inoculation years ago surfaces, and the Alameda County Health Officer suggests quarantine for the affected students and highly recommends vaccination for the student population?
After grappling with the issue as a board – and not being able to reach consensus – Eli suggests it is time for “Community Activated Conversation.” Don (Thomas Ray Ryan) and Suzanne (Tina Benko) concur. New board member Carina (Elizabeth Carter) – a black lesbian who just moved back west with her wife from the east coast – rightly questions what the CAC might be and Meiko (K.K. Moggie) – late to the discussion because her daughter Olivia has a fever and a swollen face – demurs to scheduling the event for the following day. The Conversation transpires on the Facebook Live platform so all parents can “be part of” the conversation.
Any semblance of unanimity about vaccinations and herd immunity that was present in the board discussion, quickly evaporates during the Community Activated Conversation when the “community” begins to flood the discussion with everything but the assigned topic. The comments run the gamut from the typical, “But I heard” intrusions to completely mean-spirited and offensive posts. It is a risky business to write an entire scene in which the actors are upstaged by the silence of the hilarious stream of comments from a Facebook Live session projected on the school library’s back wall. However, playwright Jonathan Spector succeeds, and the FB Live scene successfully serves as the crisis of the play.
The heightened action in the final scenes would require multiple spoiler alerts. It is enough to know that the provenance of facts, the veracity of facts, and all of the honorable goals of the Eureka Day community are challenged, some upended – all of this with considerable casualties, racism, othering, and a host of other” unthinkable” atrocities. Under Adrienne Campbell-Holt’s astute direction, the cast brings authenticity and honesty to their complex characters. As they crisscross John McDermott’s realistic set, the characters challenge any and all preconceptions of truth, justice, and the American way.
The cast of “Eureka Day” features Tina Benko, Elizabeth Carter, KK Moggie, Kate Cullen Roberts, Thomas Jay Ryan, and Brian Wiles.
The scenic design for “Eureka Day” is by John McDermott; projection design is by Kate Ducey; costume design is by Lux Haac; lighting design is by Grant Yeager; sound design is by Amy Altadonna. Sean McGrath serves as Production Manager and Technical Director. Avery Trunko is Production Stage Manager and Katie Cecil Cairns is Assistant Stage Manager. Casting is by Anne Davison. Mehr Kaur serves as the Associate Director.
Colt Coeur’s “Eureka Day” runs at Walkerspace (46 Walker Street, between Broadway and Church Street) through Saturday September 21, 2019 on the following performance schedule: Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., and Sundays and Mondays at 7:00 p.m. Two 3:00 p.m. matinee performances have been added on Saturday September 14th and Thursday September 19th. Tickets start at $25 and are general admission. For more information and tickets, visit https://www.coltcoeur.org/. Running time is 1 hour and 50 minutes with one intermission.
Photo: The cast of “Eureka Day” at Walkerspace. Credit: Robert Altman.