10/21/2020 EUREKA DAY Theatrical Outfit Downtown Dialogues
To be clear about my political biases, I am a longtime left-of-center moderate. I know I’m a liberal because I see through the nonsense of “trickle-down economics” and I am massively irked by the tactics and policies of (what used to be) the Republican party. I know I’m a moderate because I am equally irked by the naivete and failure-to-think-it-through ideas coming from the progressive left. And I am totally appalled by how pervasive attack-dog ads are from both parties.
Which is to say, I should welcome the characters of Jonathan Spector’s Eureka Day into my Zoom-osphere, as they are the lefty parents of privileged children at a private Berkeley California day school. But since they exhibit all the failure-to-think aspects of the extremes of “my own side,” I accept them with a grain of gluten-free sea salt.
This is the Board of a Directors at Eureka Day School, who only act under the banner of “consensus.” That’s indeed a noble aspiration of group dynamics, but it is always the least likely to occur. They gather and talk (respectfully) until consensus is reached, even if it takes all night, which means it’s probably not
consensus at all, but survival of the fittest – whose proposal is “left standing” after all opposition has “given up” under the pressures of fatigue, browbeating and inertia? (Can you tell I’ve been formally trained in Negotiation rules and tactics?)
They also demand mutual respect for each other. But doesn’t respect, to be real, have to be earned? How do you respect a comrade whose ideas are just demonstrably wrong? How do you return respect when your comrade thinks you’re a “scholarship family” only because you’re African American? These (well-written) characters all have their blind spots, their prejudices, their moments of cultural smugness, yet none of them are true “villains.”
So, what happens to this merry group when they come across a situation where the individual members are basing their opinions on different facts? You see, an outbreak of mumps is racing through the student body and the State Board of Education has closed the school down until mandatory vaccination has been observed.
What a minute! We’re a private school and we’re REQUIRING vaccination? Not with my child? What? You don’t care if your child infects mine? HELL NO! In one beautifully realized scene. The characters try to remain calm, respectful, and even-tempered, even as their meeting is being live-streamed to ALL the parents. We see the characters in their little Zoom boxes along the side, but we also see the parental on-line chatter, which quickly descends into anger, outrage, bullying, and profane invective.
I said above there are no true villains. But we all have our opinions about vaccination, we all have accepted different “authorities,” and, we (I should say those who share my opinions) have to look askance at Suzanne (Courtney Patterson) who has completely absorbed the “Big Bad Pharma” conspiracy theory and the completely discredited Vaccines-Cause-Autism belief (insert critical thinking “Correlation is NOT Causation” digression here). Yet, we eventually learn that she lost a daughter to a bad reaction to vaccination.
Meiko (Kimiye Corwin) on the other hand, has a child who MAY be an early victim of the outbreak, and Eli (Andrew Benator) has an immuno-deficient son who is on death’s door from the disease. How can we not be empathetic to their situations?
Also on hand is Caraina (Candy McLellan), who is most definitely NOT a “Scholarship Mother,” but is the newest member of the Board, so is first to keep her opinions unspoken, until they are disrespected. And finally there is Don (Brian Kurlander), Chairman, but somewhat inept at “wrangling” his squabbling board. He must eventually make a decision that will surely lead to half of the parents pulling their children from the school. But which half?
This is a play of ideas and characters, one especially relevant during the current pandemic. It gives us characters we will either hate or love, often both, and delivers its dialogue, its arguments, like rapid-fire bullets (or, if you’ll forgive an apt simile, like vaccine from a needle). There is plenty of ironic humor, and a few internecine plot details I purposely leave out in case you run across this piece later. It left me with a satisfied smile on my face, and a sense that “all bases” were covered, a sense validated by the post-reading discussion with epidemiologist Dr. Saad Omer (director of the Yale Institute for Global Health), the playwright (Jonathan Spector) and the director (January LaVoy).
Ms. LaVoy is especially to be commended for keeping the arguments balanced, for showing respect to characters from both sides, and for using the Zoom platform beautifully, especially in the chat-war sequence, which was executed by the Stage Manager (Courtney Greever-Fries) to perfectly synchronize dialogue and chats at what had to be a cue-every-half-second pace.
Eureka Day, like the Downtown Dialogues that preceded it, is a true conversation starter, a reading that is professional enough to pass as a true performance. All the actors totally inhabited their roles, all give nuance and subtext that deepened the experience, and all were passionate advocates of their character’s P.O.V. I recommend you check out the recorded post-show discussion.
But then, I am a left-of-center moderate, so I may be biased.
-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com @bk_rudy #TODowntownDialogues #EurekaDay)