Dimanche Review. Climate Awareness via Puppetry and Clowning

The climate crisis has been deadly for polar bears and flamingos, sharks and elderly mothers-in-law, but it’s been gold for innovative Belgian theater companies. “Dimanche,”  a series of wondrously theatrical cautionary scenes by the Belgian companies Focus and Chaliwaté  on stage through May 13 at BAM Fisher, comes just four months after a similar piece by the Belgian company Ontroerend Goed entitled “Are we not drawn onward to new erA,” at the same Brooklyn theater.  Like the earlier work, “Dimanche” is 75 minutes long, largely wordless, and full of clever stagecraft meticulously executed, integrated with video, using humor and spectacle to comment about climate change. “Dimanche” is more direct about the effects, and thus, although as entertaining as a masterful circus act, more devastating. And it also has some magnificent puppetry! 

“Dimanche” starts off with three documentary filmmakers (Julie Tenret, Sicaire Durieux and Sandrine Heyraud, who together also wrote and directed the show) traveling in the Arctic, first ingeniously in overview (using tiny puppets) then close-up, jauntily making their way over a glacier as they (and we) listen to Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.” Their mission ends in tragedy, which is clearly if subtly indicated at the beginning of the next scene, in which we see their camera lying next to a polar bear. The bear, listless perhaps from hunger, lies collapsed atop an iceberg, as its adorable cub peeks out from its massive fur-covered body then burrows back in. then scrambles out again. The iceberg cracks in half, the second half floating away – then cracks in half again.

In the world of the play (as in the real world) the effects of climate change have extended far beyond the polar ice caps.  We are taken to the sea and the sky, and to a family home, with a middle aged couple and a (puppet) elderly mother beset by calamity but trying to make the most of it—a bird crashes through the roof; they cook it for dinner. The heat becomes unbearable, then the wind sweeps them away – a moment of clowning that’s both impressive for its acrobatics and alarming in its implications.  The wind howls louder and louder – an assault on our senses, and an appeal to come to our senses about what’s happening in the world.

In the previous climate crisis theatrical spectacle at BAM, I thought it unlikely to inspire theatergoers to go home and sign right up for the Natural Resources Defense Council. But maybe this one will. It should. At the very least, we should thank the Belgians.

BAM Fisher through May 13, 2023
Running time: 75 minutes, no intermission
Written and directed by Julie Tenret, Sicaire Durieux and Sandrine Heyraud
Cast: Julie Tenret, Sicaire Durieux, Sandrine Heyraud or Thomas Dechaufour, Shantala Pèpe, Christine Heyraud, Julie Dacquin or Sophie Leso
Stage Set Construction by Zoé Tenret, Bruno Mortaignie (LS Diffusion), Sébastien Boucherit and Sebastien Munck 
Puppets created by Waw ! Studios / Joachim Jannin et Jean-Raymond Brassinne
Puppet assistant creators Emmanuel Chessa, Aurélie Deloche and Gaëlle Marras
Lights by Guillaume Toussaint Fromentin, sound by Brice Cannavo, video by Tristan Galand, costumes by Fanny Boizard

Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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