Despite its title, Eureka Day lacks an erudite idea at its centre. A shame, then, seeing how timely Jonathan Spector’s comedy about a committee of American parents dealing with a mumps outbreak in and anti-vaxx sentiment feels amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Yet it’s 120 minutes of awkward and inconsequential conversations – surprising, given that style of humour is typically British, not American – that twice led to me zoning out from the play completely. The majority of the audience found such a style hilarious, so perhaps I was missing something, but a lot of the tension and disagreement which lends itself to comedy and drama is buried deep in the dialogue, rarely overt. In fact, most of it is veiled microaggressions from Suzanne (Helen Hunt) to Carina (Susan Kelechi Watson), which are more uncomfortable than humorous.
The laughter is reserved for Don (Mark McKinney), a meditative Bill Oddie look-a-like whose fake, insincere and on-the-nose dialogue – “that’s so kind” – is so jarring that it actually works against the exhausting lull of multiple committee meetings. Equally, the very last scene of act one – where the group livestream a meeting – is wildly funny for it’s more dynamic and chaotic nature. The live chat is exactly as you would expect it to be – complete with the flinging of swear words, hyperbolic anti-vaxx analogies and one user named Leslie Kaufman whose only contribution to the mess is a series of single emoji reactions. In amongst all of the confusion this play caused me, the satire of modern social media discussions gets the thumbs up from me.
Though it is one of the few positives I can think to bring up for Eureka Day, as so much else is left to the audience to figure out or assign meaning to. What is the point of Eli’s (Ben Schnetzer) adulterous relationship with May (Kirsten Foster) other than being pointless filler? You tell me. Just what exactly is their first meeting discussing when the lights come up? An inclusive drop down menu on an application form, apparently – and this is somehow supposed to be funny. There is therefore a sense that you need to be alert to the dry comedic style adopted by Spector, but there are some for whom humour should be more passive and require less mental gymnastics.
A PR disaster for the school, and the solution they seem to settle upon – cemented by two different characters – appears to be to “listen to the community” more. We’re made aware that Eureka Day was written before the Covid-19 pandemic, but the takeaway is frustrating when the play has otherwise required us to take an active role as an audience member. The sudden switch feels a tad insulting, the failure to present a more compelling argument about the state of vaccine discourse, meanwhile, is incredibly disappointing.
Just like questioning the effectiveness of a vaccine is a wild, fringe opinion, I suspect my scrutinising the effectiveness of Eureka Day’s dialogue-heavy and slow-paced comedy is far removed from the opinion of the majority of those in the audience, who were laughing every couple of minutes. Tragically, for a play about vaccines, I failed to see the point, meaning it’s hard to give this school drama full marks.
Eureka Day is now playing at the Old Vic Theatre until 31 October 2022.
Audio described and captioned performances are due to take place on 11 and 14 October respectively.
Production Images: Manuel Harlan.
Disclaimer: I was invited to watch ‘Eureka Day’ for free in exchange for a review of the performance as a member of the press. I did not receive payment for this article and all opinions stated above are honest and my own.