lthough Oscar-winner Helen Hunt is the large identify in Jonathan Spector’s sly US comedy about freedom and tolerance, it’s actually an ensemble piece the place the star is the incisive, witty script. Eureka Day is a Californian non-public faculty so painfully right-on the dad and mom self-police their language for inclusivity and their doughnut decisions for sustainability.
However when mumps breaks out and it transpires some children have been left intentionally unvaccinated, this self-regarding group of consensus fractures. First staged in Berkeley – the place else? – in 2017, and Off-Broadway in August 2019, the play’s arguments have since change into extra acute. It’s barely schematic however laugh-out-loud humorous and nowhere close to as one-sided as you would possibly anticipate.
In director Katy Rudd’s crisp, polished revival, the mainstays of the mum or dad council are conciliatory, socks-and-sandals-wearing head Don (Mark McKinney), who likes to cite the Sufi poet Rumi, and Suzanne (Hunt), overtly form however liable to womansplaining. Youthful mum Might is having a covert affair with tech bro Eli, nevertheless it’s okay as a result of his partner is “past monogamy”. Whereas new arrival Carina (Susan Kelechi Watson), whose son has particular academic necessities, is just not all the pieces Suzanne assumes her to be.
Initially, the comical makes an attempt of this privileged bunch to out-liberal and proper one another have an affectionate, beneficiant air. However the skinny veil of civility is ripped off throughout a video name to debate the college’s quarantine and readmission coverage, the place dad and mom commenting on-line shortly begin accusing one another of stupidity or fascism.
The more and more hilarious and deranged messages scroll over Rob Howell’s classroom set, relegating the dialogue of the reside actors to background chunter. Hunt, a director and stage actor in addition to a veteran display performer with a number of Emmy, Golden Globe and SAG awards to her identify in addition to that Oscar (for As Good As It Will get, reverse Jack Nicholson in 1997) selected a really collegiate, unstarry automobile for her London debut.
She does get a passionate, delicate speech within the extra issue-driven second half, explaining the heartbreaking roots of Suzanne’s scepticism, although. Why ought to we belief the medical institution on vaccines after they lied about opioids, she asks, unanswerably?
Although Spector isn’t above lampooning each woo-woo progressives and swivel-eyed conspiracists, there are intelligent nuances right here and all through the script. Suzanne is anti-needle however has undergone many IVF injections. The college can’t take the hit of oldsters withdrawing charges as a result of it’s blown the price range on gender-neutral loos. Eli and Might’s actions have repercussions, emblematic of the broader ways in which dad and mom mess up their children.
Hunt is fantastically understated, by no means begging sympathy for Suzanne. Watson is superb too at demonstrating Carina’s gradual acclimatisation to the group’s phrases of engagement, whereas McKinney joyfully suggests what Owen Wilson might be like when – if – he grows up.
Eli and Might are underwritten and Spector’s facility with dialogue masks an absence of character depth all through. However this stays a needle-sharp comedy that packs a wise and well timed punch. The truth that it’s co-produced by Sonia Friedman suggests it could have a well-deserved additional life past its Outdated Vic run, too.
On the Outdated Vic till 31 Oct, oldvictheatre.com