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Theater review by Adam Feldman
The logic of it seems elementary: Schoolchildren should be vaccinated against fatal diseases. But this issue proves complicated in Jonathan Spector’s wonderfully spiky Eureka Day, set at a small private day school in Berkeley, California. The institution strives to teach progressive emotional and social values—the kids’ reading room includes both a stuffed bunny and a Barbara Kruger–style poster that says WE ARE THE RESISTANCE—and consensus is required for any decision by its executive committee: school head Don (the masterfully placid Thomas Jay Ryan), a hippie who concludes each meeting with a reading from Rumi; highly engaged parents Suzanne (Tina Benko, tight as a bongo), Eli (Brian Wiles) and Meiko (K.K. Moggie); and newcomer Carina (Elizabeth Carter). But a health crisis forces emergency action, leading to the hilariously chaotic mass Facebook discussion that ends the first act. As the committee struggles to maintain order, the comments of the online parents get faster and more furious, and the whole community’s meticulous civility goes out the group-chat window.
Under Adrienne Campbell-Holt’s alert direction, Spector and the expert cast extract comic gold from the little tugs-of-war for control among the members of the committee. But in the second act, this comedy of manners yields to a serious probing of interpersonal responsibility and the limits of consideration. “No one in this room is a villain,” as Don says, and the play’s anti-vaxxers are equipped not just with the usual weapons of skepticism but—far more disarmingly—with personal pain and guilt. Even as it stakes out a moral position on its subject, Eureka Day avoids the kind of lording dismissal that, in too much of our social-media lives, has become epidemic.
Walkerspace (Off Broadway). By Jonathan Spector. Directed by Adrienne Campbell-Holt. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 50mins. One intermission.