Eureka Day is a smart new comedy set in a liberal Californian school where the members of the Executive Committee continually attempt to out-woke each other; it’s such an aggressively inclusive learning environment that parents are requested to refer to their own children using gender-neutral pronouns. Academy Award-winning actress Helen Hunt leads the impressive cast which also features Kirsten Foster, Mark McKinney, Ben Schnetzer and Susan Kelechi Watson. Following its debut in Berkeley (of course) in 2017, and a subsequent off-Broadway run in 2019, it has now opened at London’s Old Vic Theatre, directed by Katy Rudd.
It’s a brilliantly observed satire. The thin veil of civility between the privileged parents rapidly disintegrates in act one during a virtual town hall event, hosted by the Executive Committee, to discuss the school’s response to an outbreak of mumps. The audience is able to read the chat bar for the virtual meeting, which is projected on to the back of the stage; initial concern rapidly descends into accusations of fascism as it emerges that some parents deliberately haven’t vaccinated their children. One participant, who entirely communicates in emojis, had the audience absolutely howling – it’s genuinely one of the funniest sketches we’ve ever seen on the stage.
Yet it’s surprisingly balanced – while it’s reasonably clear where playwright Jonathon Spector stands on the matters discussed, no argument is ever one-sided. Anti-vaxxer Suzanne (Helen Hunt) is a fully-realised character with a perfectly valid reason not to trust Big Pharma; the complexity and nuance of her stance caught us off-guard, though the hypocrisy of her being anti-injection yet pro-IVF was not lost on us. There’s a wonderfully light-touch approach to major issues, which works brilliantly; white privilege is subtly skewered when we see a white woman quoting Michelle Obama’s “when they go low, we go high” to a black woman.
Eureka Day gets so much right that it’s hard to fault. Perhaps elements of the story are underdeveloped – early on we see an affair between two characters which doesn’t really go anywhere, other than an entertaining observation that the characters are “beyond monogamy”. While this an ensemble piece, there are arguably a couple of characters who aren’t quite as fully-realised as the others. But it’s such an entertaining show – hilariously funny, snappily directed, intelligently observed – that we’re more than happy to overlook such minor shortcomings. There’s no such thing as a perfect play, but Eureka Day comes pretty close.
GAY TIMES gives Eureka Day – 5/5
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