Presented by State Theatre Company South Australia
Reviewed 16 November 2021
These days I think, when some choice buzzwords pop into our line of vision we somewhat glaze over: “COVID”, “lockdown”, “vaccinations”. That last one is most prevalent in Eureka Day, a stirring comedy who’s conception somehow pre-dates the events of March 2020. I’ll admit, I rolled my eyes at that word as a lot of people might in trying to avoid reminders of our current world—but whatever I was expecting, it was not that. Eureka Dayis a joyfully cathartic play, and in its manic energy I found a weird kind of peace.
Eureka Day concerns a committee of parents of children at the Eureka Day School in Berkeley, California, caught unawares by a sudden outbreak of mumps, and the question of vaccinations—should they mandate them and exclude unvaccinated students, or should they take the risk and open? It hits so close to home and yet ably manages to excite and delight.
There is a lot to love here. We meet the five central characters mid-committee meeting, where discussion is interrupted (or ruled) by asides to police tone, language, politics—this group parry in such language for social points rather than any social good. Stay with it—the initial worrying signs that playwright Jonathan Spector might parody “wokeness” as nonsense and trivial gives way early on to some beautiful writing and characterisation.
Caroline Craig as Suzanne is the undisputed star, both in talent and character—her wild gesticulations, exclamations and intimate touching (she doles out a majority of the play’s hand holding and back massages) act as a lightning rod for attention. Glynn Nicholas as Don plays the peacekeeper of the group, but his tactics are similarly distracting—at one point he rips down enormous rolls of butcher’s paper with dramatic zeal to jot down the group’s shared values, with no rhyme or reason. Sara Zwangobani as Carina is marvellous as the “sensible one”, who backs up her claims with science and ultimately threatens to topple Suzanne’s kingdom.
Matt Hyde and Juanita Navas-Nguyen as Eli and Meiko respectively fade into the background as their storyline gives way to the play’s meaty bits, but the horrifying implications of their situation provide some much needed reflection on proceedings—Navas-Nguyen in particular takes on the play’s “statement” monologue (for lack of a better word) with ease, and disappears so completely into her character while railing against the guilt of blameless ignorance. It’s thrilling stuff.
Don’t think it’s all heavy though—I have not laughed this much at the theatre in years. One scene in particular has an enormous detail; the horrifyingly real mania of an ongoing comment war during the committee’s “community consultation”. Comments roll in and bring with them gales of laughter—it’s a perfect depiction of the online vacuum and the black-and-white world it creates.
“Cathartic” is the perfect word to describe Eureka Day. The debate over how to depict, or even discuss, the COVID-19 pandemic in art oscillates between complete denial and experimental treatment. It felt freeing to just have the debate out, without artifice or hope of triumph. It felt good. And like many political plays it presents humanistic camps for both sides while making its ultimate stake plainly clear.
I could keep writing but I fear I’ll run out of words. Eureka Day is a fantastic get for Adelaide, and a must-see play.
Reviewed by Callum McLean
Rating out of 5: 4.5 stars
Venue: Dunstan Playhouse
Season: Until 27 November 2021
Duration: 2 hrs 10 mins (including interval)
Photo Credit: Chris Herzfeld