Ideological disagreements are certainly not a new topic for a city as diverse as Berkeley, but the Aurora Theatre Company production of “Eureka Day” positions this concept at the heart of its narrative. The central question that the play asks is, can change be enacted when people can’t even agree on something as basic as a fact?
Set in a Berkeley private school, the narrative centers around five parents who meet regularly as members of the school’s executive board. Almost every scene takes place in this same classroom setting, which allows the audience to get familiar with the board’s specific style of running things — everyone in the room must agree before a motion is passed.
However, a problem arises when a case of the mumps breaks out and the school is ordered by the health department to impose a vaccination schedule on its students. This creates a rift in opinions among the characters, as each member of the board attempts to argue for their own version of the truth.
Despite its relatively serious subject matter, “Eureka Day” certainly doesn’t shy away from comedy and constantly pokes fun at the liberal ideologies embodied through the characters.
“Eureka Day” is peppered with tongue-in-cheek jabs at certain Berkeley-isms. The play’s opening raises an important question: Is including the racial category of “Other” on the school’s website inherently problematic? Additionally, one parent is discouraged from bringing paper plates on campus because of the school’s strict policy against them. Finally, the bathrooms are undergoing expensive renovations in order to become gender-neutral. While these quips certainly succeeded in earning chuckles from the audience, the jokes themselves seem to become progressively more and more ridiculous.
The aforementioned bathroom renovations end up becoming more than just a punchline when the school finds itself in financial trouble in the play’s second act, muddying the play’s argument. The fact that these jokes landed so well was perhaps due to the Aurora Theatre’s slightly older audience. Although each character is a parent, the dialogue — particularly the ridiculing of political correctness — is a joking critique of a younger generation’s perspectives rather than just a way to poke fun at Berkeley residents.
Despite this excessive parody of liberalism, “Eureka Day” achieves its comedic peak at the conclusion of the first act. The executive board hosts a Facebook Live-esque forum in order to respond to the other concerned parents of the school. Screens positioned toward the audience on three sides continually display comments and questions posed by the other parents. However, these banal remarks quickly escalate into a full-blown flame war. The voices of the characters present onstage were lost completely, and they paled in comparison to the deafening pings of each new comment and every thunderclap of laughter from the audience.
Although it easily left a comedic impression on its audience, “Eureka Day” fumbles in its attempts to be serious.
The conflict between Suzanne (Lisa Anne Porter), who is staunchly opposed to vaccines, and the rest of the board is solved by her unceremonious resignation from the board — leaving no satisfying conclusion to the play’s central question. If there is ever dissent, apparently the only solution is to expel the person that you happen to disagree with. Overcoming opposing ideologies is not an easy task, but with its conclusion, “Eureka Day” seems to shirk such responsibilities with its attempt at an ending.
To make matters worse, “Eureka Day” does this not once but twice. The romantic subplot introduced between Meiko (Charisse Loriaux) and Eli (Teddy Spencer) also doesn’t receive a clear conclusion, as both characters make no mention of it during the play’s final scene.
Indeed, these attempts to be simultaneously silly and serious create a peculiar dissonance in tone and end up undercutting the play’s overall success. Although “Eureka Day” makes a noble effort in creating a dialogue of difference, its overarching argument gets lost amid its constant return back into comedy.
Contact Sarah Alford at [email protected].