The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Mosaic Theater’s ‘Eureka Day’ slyly takes aim at self-righteous liberalism

“Eureka Day” will run at Atlas Performing Arts Center through Jan. 6. (Christopher Banks/Mosaic Theater Company)
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Mosaic Theater’s “Eureka Day” concludes Act 1 with a carefully orchestrated symphony of chaos. As an elite day school’s board discusses a mumps outbreak via live stream, the comments section ominously materializes on an overhanging screen. With notifying dings and whooshes, the online peanut gallery promptly reveals itself as a comical mob of protective, Google-educated parents. All the while, the five board members forge on, tangled in their own web of misguided decorum.

The sequence had my eyes and ears pulled in three directions, and I imagine that’s exactly what director Serge Seiden wants from such a pointed visualization of online vitriol. It’s the busiest part of Jonathan Spector’s script, but the entire play is packed with overlapping dialogue and incomplete thoughts from characters who have too much on their minds.

One question they ponder: Are all points of view valid? If not, where do you draw the line? “Eureka Day,” which premiered last year at Aurora Theater in Berkeley, Calif., and ran off-Broadway this past summer, probes those queries while poking fun at self-righteous liberalism.

The subjects of this sly satire are the hyper-progressive Eureka Day School board members, who deliberate by walking on eggshells and tripping over niceties. The quintet is shepherded by the Rumi-reciting, Birkenstock-sporting peacemaker Don (an amusingly exasperated Sam Lunay). Quietly condescending Suzanne (Lise Bruneau, who gives the character unexpected layers) is the most entrenched in her opinions. Smug tech millionaire Eli (Elan Zafir) and shy single mom Meiko (Regina Aquino) are hooking up, though it’s unclear if Eli’s marriage is as open as he claims. Carina (Erica Chamblee) is the group’s bemused newcomer and a handy audience surrogate.

The board ruminates on such issues as the installation of all-gender bathrooms and the avoidance of colonialist controversy in a production of “Peter Pan.” (The solution: Set the play in outer space.) No children appear in “Eureka Day,” but clearly there’s a trickle-down effect of ideals. As one parent notes, Eureka’s soccer players are the ones who cheer when the other team scores. The classroom set, from designer Andrew Cohen, mixes in Black Lives Matter and We Are the Resistance posters among the kids’ watercolors.

When the mumps outbreak unleashes a plague of division over some parents’ anti-vaccination views, the characters alternately bounce off each other with compassion and consternation. Suzanne and Carina emerge as the central figures in this battle of wills, as Spector’s script presents a more meditative second act about grappling with opposing viewpoints.

The pivot from pure farce creates a tonal tightrope that “Eureka Day” traverses with empathy for all involved. But resolving this collision of ideals proves tricky, and the play ends on an overly neat note. (In a fun gimmick, though, the late introduction of a sixth character allows the production to sporadically stunt-cast the part; on opening night, D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton played the role.)

By narrowing its focus to Suzanne and Carina, “Eureka Day” unfortunately ushers Eli and Meiko — arguably Act 1’s most compelling figures — to the sidelines after intermission. That said, serial knitter Meiko gets to unravel with a final monologue about the fractured state of the world, which Aquino delivers with broken bewilderment. “I believe in human fallibility,” she cries. For anyone who peruses the bitterness of Internet comment sections, it’s hard to disagree.

Eureka Day, by Jonathan Spector. Directed by Serge Seiden. Set, Andrew Cohen; lighting, Brittany Shemuga; costumes, Brandee Mathies; sound, David Lamont Wilson; projections, Dylan Uremovich and Theodore J.H. Hulsker; props, Deborah C. Thomas. About two hours. Tickets: $20-$65. Through Jan. 5 at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St. NE. 202-399-7993 or mosaictheater.org.

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