If you were to read through the school district’s recent Thought Exchange, you would find hundreds of opposing viewpoints about topics ranging from masks to pronouns to homework. I personally rated 480 thoughts over the course of a week before deciding to stop for my own mental health. Of those 480 thoughts, many focused on the issue of vaccines, saying, “no vaccine mandates,” or “we need to mandate vaccines!” This debate is at the heart of Syracuse Stage’s current play, “Eureka Day.”
“Eureka Day” centers around the five-member school board of a very liberal private school (Eureka Day School) in Berkeley in 2017. The school community is thrust into chaos when several students test positive for mumps (not COVID) and the school is forced to temporarily shut down. This leads to a series of heated discussions of vaccine mandates in schools. The five-member board is divided as parents threaten to pull their kids from the school if vaccines aren’t mandated.
The issue of vaccine mandates has been quite prevalent in U.S. communities over the past few years, and the show handles the subject with grace. Both sides of the debate are presented, and most of the characters have logical motivations. While the show is set up for the audience (who, incidentally, had to show proof of vaccination to get into the Syracuse Stage theater) to root for the pro-vaccine character, playwright Jonathan Spector also manages to make the audience feel for the anti-vaccine characters.
The characters in the show border on stereotypes, which is generally frowned upon in writing but here provides many much needed laughs and makes the more powerful moments hit even harder. The actors are versatile, able to transition from over-the-top to vulnerable in a matter of seconds. Stephanie Weeks brings reason to the show as the level-headed Carina, the board’s newest member. Jason O’Connell hilariously captures the panic of Don, a frantic school administrator trying to ease tension. Drew Hirshfield and Laura Yumi Snell simultaneously annoy and delight the audience as Eli and Meiko, two parents in a not-so-secret secret relationship. Perhaps most impressively, LeeAnne Hutchison handles some of the toughest material in the show with respect and empathy as vehement anti-vaxxer Suzanne. Overall, the cast is dynamic and well rounded, bringing charm and sincerity to the difficult material.
The show’s design captures the show’s tone perfectly. The play is set in Eureka Day’s library, complete with a social justice section and many posters preaching the importance of diversity (one of which features school values that spell out a word that I will not repeat in a school publication). The set features a window overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge and a screen where videos can be projected. Junghyun Georgia Lee, who designed both the costumes and the set, portrays each character’s essence through their specific costumes.
My personal favorite part of the play came at the end of the first act. In the final scene before intermission, the characters hold a FaceBook Live stream for community members to voice their concerns. The audience gets to read the hilarious comments left by parents, which quickly escalate from a conversation about a family who moved to Canada to an extremely profane argument about western medicine. The scene grows more and more frantic as the comments start to come in faster and the characters on stage begin to panic. The scene ends abruptly when one parent refers to another as a c***. The audience is left to wonder how the show could possibly continue as there is no clear resolution in sight.
Overall, the show was thoroughly relatable and raised the age-old question of whether the needs of a community should be valued above those of the individual. The show packs in humor and heartache and makes the audience want to interject with their own opinions at times. After two years without live theater, “Eureka Day” was a warm welcome back to the days as a live audience member, despite the theater’s cold temperature, and is the perfect show for right now.
More information about “Eureka Day” can be found here.