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Political correctness, inclusivity, neurodiversity, sensitivity, and conflict avoidance run amok in Colt Coeur’s East Coast premiere of Jonathan Spector’s uproarious satire, Eureka Day, which opened last night at Walkerspace. When an unvaccinated student at a supposedly woke California private school, Eureka Day, contracts mumps and the county health department issues a quarantine order, the executive committee, which strives to treat all children, students, and parents with equal respect and considers every opinion valid, suddenly faces a crisis that makes it question its most basic value systems. The white Don (Thomas Jay Ryan), Eli (Brian Wiles), and Suzanne (Tina Benko), the black Carina (Elizabeth Carter), and the Asian Meiko (K.K. Moggie) meet in the elementary school library; the cluttered room (designed by John McDermott) features three tall bookshelves, divided into Fiction, Nonfiction, and Social Justice, as if the third one is neither fiction nor nonfiction, fake nor real. The alphabet circling the room consists of such words as “co-op” for C, “democracy” for D, “trans” for T, and “union” for U.
The committee, which makes decisions only by consensus — heated arguments are not their thing, because offensive language or behavior of any kind will not be tolerated — agrees to hold a live community activated conversation over social media, an online town hall about the health situation. Despite Don’s peaceful intentions, it erupts into a frenzy of personal attacks between those parents in favor of vaccinations and those against — a larger number than anyone anticipated — but even the phrasing causes problems. “‘Anti-vaxxer’ is not really a term I’m comfortable with. It’s actually something said out of IGNORANCE,” one mother posts, while a father writes, “TRUE FACTS: Moonlanding wasn’t faked / 9/11 wasn’t an inside job / Global Warming is real / Vaccines Don’t Cause Autism.” The committee shuts it down when it devolves into curses and vicious name-calling, but the controversy soon blossoms among the five of them when it is learned that Suzanne and Meiko refuse to vaccinate their children, while Eli and Carina have immunized theirs. Don, the head of the school, doesn’t have the same skin in the game, as he is childless.
Don, Suzanne, Eli, and Meiko are determined not to offend anyone, in any way, ever — even the scones they eat are carefully sourced and served — but Carina, the newest member of the committee, is not afraid to state her case for fact-based science over undereducated opinion, which does not make Suzanne happy. And it only gets worse when race, religion, and class enter the fray, rearing their ugly heads in the hallowed halls of Eureka Day.
Adroitly directed with subtle, dry humor by Adrienne Campbell-Holt (Downstairs, Joan), Eureka Day is a shrewd, cunning laceration of would-be social justice warriors, conspiracy theories, identity politics, and the education system. The characters are well drawn and fully believable, portrayed by a terrific cast led by Benko (Top Girls, Nantucket Sleigh Ride), who matter-of-factly contorts her body in funny ways throughout, and Ryan (The Nap, Dance Nation) as the soft and tender though oblivious Don, looking ever-so-gentle and caring in his shorts and mandals (without socks) as he attempts to steer clear of confrontation. The story has a little extra oomph here in New York City, where a measles outbreak in Brooklyn has spread fear and misinformation, especially on the internet. It’s Pollyanna-ish to think, in this day and age, that everyone gets a say, that every opinion bears equal weight despite the evidence. As it becomes clear in Eureka Day, in an environment in which everyone wins, there eventually has to be losers. But it’s not always who you might think.