Wednesday, April 25, 2018

"Eureka Day"


Eureka Day
Jonathan Spector

The Cast of Eureka Day
Maybe this is a typical, kindergarten classroom; but probably most of those in America do not have posters hanging on their pristine walls showing a raised fist for “Occupy Oakland,” a sad-faced elephant proclaiming “Global Warming Is a Giant Problem,” or the definition of “eracism” (erasing the belief one race is better than any other).  And for sure very few reside in high hills overlooking incredibly stunning views of the far-off Golden Gate Bridge.  After all, this is Berkeley; so we should not be surprised that the board of the private Eureka Day School nibbles on critically acclaimed, organic scones while agonizing on such meaty topics as whether to add “trans-racial adoptee” to their already long list of racial and ethnic categories for applying parents to use in designating their children.  And the fact the group “spits balls” on topics (while most other groups just brainstorm) or ends its meetings meditating on the just-read words of the thirteenth-century Persian Sunni poet, Rumi, may not be too surprising either, given it is Berkeley. 

But this group that prides itself in welcoming with open arms the ideas of all as it reaches consensus on each and every decision is about to undergo a 8.0 on the Richter Scale when one student (aka Patient Zero) gets the mumps, leading to fifteen and growing the number infected.  In a school where almost half of the parents are proclaimed and practicing “anti-vaxxers,” the resulting rift of this trembler is soon threatening to split the school apart – especially when the local Health Department announces a quarantine of all those children not vaccinated.

Aurora Theatre presents the world premiere of Jonathan Spector’s Eureka Day, a highly engaging, often hilarious, yet increasingly disturbing and thought-provoking examination of what happens when highly intelligent, overall ultra-liberal, and outwardly accepting-of-all people cannot agree on what some see as well-established, scientific facts and others see as mega-biopharm propaganda.  In a time when our country is so split between the right and the left with few remaining in the middle, Aurora Theatre exposes an issue equally divisive and prone quickly to turn ugly among those who probably all agree on 99.99% of all other issues.

For anyone who has ever been a member of any not-for-profit board or committee, watching the five-person governing group of Eureka Day has to bring back some nostalgic and maybe painful memories.  However much members proclaim as does one member, Suzanne, “I’m keeping my heart open to all of you,” the passions most wear on their sleeves of the opinions and biases they hold tell the real story of their well-intentioned openness. 

Lisa Anne Porter & Rolf Saxon
As Suzanne, Lisa Anne Porter speaks often in a voice shaking in its intensity almost as much as her out-stretched fingers tremble to the point they almost appear ready to eject from her hands.  All the time, she keeps a tight-lipped smile on her wild-eyed face as she defends the rights of those who do not believe in vaccinating their kids.  Under the skillful direction of Josh Costello and the brilliant script of Jonathan Spector, Suzanne is not someone we in the end can just dismiss – no matter our own beliefs about vaccinations.  Lisa Anne Porter ensures we hear a tearful side we may not accept but one that should be heard with compassion.

Charisse Loriaux, Lisa Anne Porter, Rolf Saxon & Elizabeth Carter
Charisse Loriaux as the parent, Meiko, is also firm and passionate in her own resolve, often nodding in agreement with the more out-spoken Suzanne.  However, her Meiko shows her own firm sense of opinion and self, suddenly spitting out, “I find the best way not to put words in someone’s mouth is not to put words in their mouth” when she feels too many assumptions are being made about her feelings and views.  As the tensions mount with each new, emergency meeting called, Meiko speaks louder and louder through her focused, silent attention on knitting and her purposefully turned back to the person speaking as if for her.  As some of us have seen in our own board meetings, the signs of an eventual eruption are present in every one of Meiko’s sullen, quick glances over her turned shoulders.

Teddy Spencer
Eli is that board member who is so full of his own enthusiasm that no matter how often he sincerely proclaims that he wants to hear others, he cannot let five words from another person be said before wildly, athletically interrupting, “Oh, oh, oh, but ...”  In his stocking feet -- now in yoga position under his torso on the kid’s work table and then supporting his ballet-like pose atop the same table -- Eli’s arms flail and his flapping mouth rattles forth.  Teddy Spencer is superb as the young wealthy guy who is now a stay-at-home dad after making his high-tech millions – an ex-CEO who still likes to take over with his own opinions that are about as open as a closed door.

Elizabeth Carter
Into this group enters Carina, a new board member who stands out in this group not only with her stunningly beautiful curls and her more reserved presentation of self but her skin color that is in dark contrast to the others in the room.  That Suzanne immediately assumes Carina is here as a representative of those parents on financial aid becomes a flashpoint for later meetings.  In the meantime, Elizabeth Carter as Carina largely observes with mixed looks of some disbelief and some amusement at the group-process-on-steroids around her and the obvious mismatch of declarations of openness and the set-in-concrete stands held.  All the time, she is garnering her own opinions for later impacts.

Rolf Saxon
With hands often raised in front of himself as if in prayer, school administrator and board member, Don, tries his sincerest best to facilitate this gathered group, not only leading the aforementioned “spit-balling” of ideas before “unpacking the list” generated and seeing “where we’re landing right now,” but ensuring the members remember such norms as using only non-gender-specific pronouns.  Rolf Saxon as Don is exuberant in his joy of being the one to lead the discussions, acting as half cheerleader, half therapist as he gently generates such gems as “Let’s focus on the positive of what we can do of what we can do.”

The Cast of Eureka Day
When the board decides to open up their stuck-in-the-mud deliberations (although they would of course never use such terms to describe what is clearly an impasse) to the community of parents at-large, the playwright and director combine creative forces to give us a Facebook Live “Community Activated Conversation” that is both guffaw-producing humorous and eye-popping terrifying.  As Don et al are seriously and sincerely trying to open up conversation about the local government’s required quarantine, projected comments appear at an ever-furious pace (with Facebook pics of those commenting and thumbs up, hearts, and scowling frowns of those responding).  Initial gossip about who has moved where and why too soon turns into insults and four-letter name-calling as those for and against vaccinations fling their furiously typed quips.  The video design of Theodore Hulsker is fantastically real, as the split-second-perfect direction of Josh Costello continues to prove its mettle.

As the foundations of this model school crumble, the scenic design of Richard Olmsted, the lighting of Jeff Rowlings, and the sound of Theodore Hulsker continually remind us that the hell this Board is going through is taking place in a paradise of singing birds and a ever-gorgeous array of setting-sun colors against the distant Golden Gate.  And hats off to Lillian Myers as Prop Designer for creating a classroom that any kid (and lots of adults) would love to go spend a few hours perusing the shelves of kids books and games.

As a former organization consultant, I can attest to the fallacy of any group believing consensus is always the end-all.  That is especially true when the group misinterprets and insists that consensus is the same as unanimity.  Ensuring that everyone is heard and working to a point that everyone can agree to support a decision upon leaving the board room even if some do not agree is admirable and preferable.  However in this adeptly acted and directed world premiere of Eureka Day, Jonathan Spector and Aurora Theatre help us to have that “Eureka,” ah-ha moment of remembering that in fact there are always going to be winners and losers, no matter how rosy we try to paint the picture with our well-intentioned processes.

Rating:  4.5 E

Eureka Day continues through May 13, 2018 on the main stage of at 2018 Addison Street, Berkeley.  Tickets are available online at https://auroratheatre.org/ or by calling the box office at 510-843-4822.

Photo Credits:  David Allen

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