Eureka Day
Photo: Robert Altman

Eureka Day

A new play tackles mandatory vaccinations for children.

By Jonathan Spector

Directed by Adrienne Campbell-Holt

Walkerspace, 46 Walker Street, NYC

Through Sept. 21, 2019

https://www.coltcoeur.org/

“Eureka Day,” a new play by Jonathan Spector, centers around today’s headline grabbing topic of mandatory vaccinations.  The dramedy (a very funny first half is followed by a more sober second half that shifts in tone following an inevitable plot twist) is produced by Colt Coeur, in association with Dominique Bravo, and is directed with flair and precision by Adrienne Campbell-Holt, who is also the artistic director of the company. The acting company is pitch-perfect, handling the comedy and more serious scenes expertly. Campbell-Holt stages the shifts in tone fluidly, with the audience laughing in one moment only to gasp in surprise or be silenced in the next beat by a solemn revelation.

The play is set in the library of Eureka Day, a progressive Bay Area private school. It is clear that this is a community that values diversity and inclusiveness—they are currently renovating all bathrooms to be gender neutral and the parents are asked to use non-specific pronouns when referring to the children. In the opening scene, the executive committee is painstakingly debating the self-identifying categories on the school’s online application. All their decisions must be made by consensus, which avoids leaving anyone feeling overruled in the process but leads to very long meetings. An earnest Thomas Jay Ryan is Don, the Rumi-quoting schoolmaster who presides over the meetings amiably, if not effectively.

The always excellent Tina Benko plays Suzanne, the chair and a parent with a long history at the school. Elizabeth Carter is a tentative Carina, a brand-new parent whose presence in the group is designed to make sure new voices are represented. Rounding out the committee are K.K. Moggie, as Mieko, a high-strung single mom, and a super chill Brian Wiles as Eli, the stay at home dad/millionaire tech entrepreneur. (We later learn that the two are having an affair, a fact that serves to set up an important plot point.) When the school receives a notice from the health department that a student at Eureka has mumps, it sets the committee into turmoil as they debate how best to keep the school and its students safe. They underestimate how explosive this will become and the virtual town hall they host via Facebook Live quickly becomes contentious. It disintegrates into a name calling showdown, revealing just how personal this issue is for some.

The play was performed in Manhattan and I could sense the audience had little patience for the “anti-vax” viewpoints. I found myself wondering how the original production of “Eureka Day” had been received, having played to a Bay Area audience, a hot spot where several schools have been reported as having very low vaccination rates.  The play does its best to treat these alternative viewpoints with respect and shows that even while the science might not support it, the debate surrounding the topic is complex and delicate. And it also crosses ideological and political lines. As demonstrated by Specter, those opposing vaccinations can be from any race, political party, and socioeconomic group. It is craftily written—all the characters share viewpoints that the audience can easily identify with, until this crisis hits and you are forced to look at them with through a different lens.

“Eureka Day” presents a group of people struggling to co-exist in the same ecology, even as they come to recognize that their differences might be irreconcilable. Everything is copacetic until this conflict arises, at which point prior alliances and even friendships are put aside. Sound familiar? It is as timely a play as any for the times we live in today, where civility is abandoned on social media and people are drawing their lines in the sand over politics. Would that real life were as entertaining and expertly written.

Nella Vera

Nella Vera works in the professional theater as a Marketing Director for Broadway and off-Broadway shows. She is an adjunct professor of arts marketing at NYU.