Through Jan. 5
Mosaic Theater Company
Atlas Performing Arts Center
1333 H St., N.E.
202-399-7993 ext. 2
Experience dictates that certain issues are better left undiscussed.
Vaccinating children is one of them. Invariably intractable, opposing viewpoints on this subject don’t budge: it’s either beyond selfish not to vaccinate or simply madness to inject live virus into an infant.
Nonetheless, Jonathan Spector’s smartly entertaining comedy “Eureka Day,” now at Mosaic Theater Company, goes there in a big way. Circumstances force discussion, kicking off all sorts of nastiness, implied and direct, as well as revelatory explanations for people’s positions.
At Eureka Day, an agonizingly progressive private school in Berkeley, Calif., the executive committee meets regularly to discuss matters ranging from an impossibly long list of ethnic identity categories to an upgrade to gender-neutral bathrooms. Their notoriously long meetings are held in the primary school’s cheery library (rendered with detailed perfection by set designer Andrew Cohen) where the group’s members take great pains to make sure everyone “feels seen.” What’s more, all decisions must be reached by consensus.
When the five-person committee unexpectedly convenes for an emergency meeting, it isn’t to discuss pronouns. It’s to address an outbreak of mumps that threatens to close Eureka Day. Because the student body is comprised of both vaccinated and unvaccinated students whose parents hold definite opinions on the matter, the prospect of an easily reached solution isn’t in the cards.
The concerned board (wittily costumed by Brandee Mathies) is headed by wishy-washy peacemaker Don (Sam Lunay), a Birkenstock-wearing educator who ends each meeting with a passage from Rumi, the 13th-century Persian poet. Other annoying mainstays are the impossibly passive-aggressive Suzanne (Lise Bruneau), a founding parent who thinks the school is her own; the ever-knitting Meiko (Regina Aquino), an affable Asian parent who isn’t what she seems; and Eli (Elan Zafir), an opinionated stay-at-home dad who made a mint in Silicon Valley.
And there’s Carina (Erica Chamblee), the fifth member who fills a position held open for a new Eureka parent. African American and married to a woman, Carina appears the most grounded of the bunch. Initially reluctant to say much, she increasingly feels the need to share and ultimately speaks her truth.
With a placid expression that scarcely masks a less-relaxed personality, Bruneau brilliantly assays Suzanne, a woman who is fine so long as things go her way. You’ve met this person and probably didn’t like them. A lot of the action turns on Suzanne’s controlling behavior.
Unsure how to proceed regarding the mumps crisis, the committee decides to address the school community via Facebook Live. While the board’s talk, mostly generalities and platitudes, goes nowhere, the parents’ comments — projected on a large screen above the stage — ignite a passion not altogether unfamiliar to this sort of forum. Tempers flare and decorum rapidly devolves.
Expertly constructed by the playwright and skillfully staged by talented out director Serge Seiden, this scene is riveting as it grows increasingly tense and then ends, for the audience, with a massive exhale followed by intermission.
Without spoiling anything, Mosaic’s offering presents what seem to be stock characters and a predictable script, but things in this comedy of liberal manners are not what they first appear — the open marriage isn’t, a seemingly noncommittal board member rises to power, and most sadly, it’s tragic experiences that motivates a parent to fight fiercely.
Ultimately, Spector’s play won’t change your mind, that’s not his intention, but it might change the way you think about how others arrive at their opinions, despite how daft.
And while it’s definitely exhilarating to watch the cast of “Eureka Day” hash it out on stage, this terrific production might come with a warning: “Don’t try this at home.”