[THEATRE ~ AUSTRALIAN PREMIERE ~ SA]
Dunstan Playhouse, Wed 17 Nov, 2021.
Presented by State Theatre Company of South Australia.
Set in a Californian alternative private school, Jonathon Spector’s Eureka Day opens with a board meeting, where the welcoming of a new member provides an excruciatingly funny opportunity for each board member to try to outdo each other espousing the inclusive and caring nature of the school’s values.
Glynn Nicholas as the school principal is a highlight. His contortions to attempt to please everyone and keep the peace while trying to keep his school fiscally afloat are masterful. (In the second half there is a fleeting but entertaining reminder of his street miming past for Adelaide audiences who remember his busking days!)
In times of crisis however the cracks in the veneer appear. As the plot unfolds we watch the school board struggle with the ramifications of a mumps outbreak in the school community. The individual’s right to choose not to vaccinate when there is a real public health scare is now the subject of a power struggle. Who will win? What will people learn about themselves that they didn’t know?
This play was written and performed before COVID-19 appeared and, although extremely topical it is not just about the individual’s right to choose, but about group dynamics, personal frailties and the foibles of choice theory, small l liberalism and democracy.
The acting throughout is nuanced and stellar. Each character has a cameo segment to flesh out initial lampooning caricatures of typical ‘woke’ parents one might expect to come across in such a school setting.
Caroline Craig’s portrayal of Suzanne as the school’s brittle queen bee is superbly handled as she is increasingly challenged as she feels the ground shifting beneath her.
Equally riveting to watch is Sara Zwangobani’s performance as Carina, a new parent to the school. The facial and body language she employs is subtle but adroit, and pinpoints her shift from initial outsider to a central mover and shaker.
The transformation of Matt Hyde’s character Eli from flag waving but self-obsessed champion of individual rights to crushed parent is beautifully executed. Juanita Navas-Nguyen’s character Meiko similarly transforms from innocence to being racked with guilt, and is handled with poignancy and pathos.
The funniest moment occurs when the messaging from an open parent forum chat room is displayed on a backdrop screen behind the actors. Parent comments, which initially try to address the problem at hand become increasingly hilariously savage and directed away from the topic and towards each other. Meanwhile on stage Don attempts to waffle on about inclusion and being non-judgemental. Adroit direction by Rosalba Clemente prevents the actors being ignored by the audience, but only just.
The staging by Meg Wilson is spot on with its calming, bright and open school library backdrop, acting as a contrast to the darkening power play taking place between the characters. Stuart Day’s musical selection referencing a sassy bygone era is also noteworthy.
Eureka Day is quality theatre – amusing, thought provoking and wonderfully executed.
Eureka Day continues at Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Centre, at various times, until Sat 27 Nov.
Book at State Theatre Company and Ticketek. Click HERE to purchase your tickets.
All images courtesy of Chris Herzfeld – except –
Second body image courtesy of Matt Byrne