Review: In ‘Dimanche,’ a Climate Emergency Comes to Stay

A clown show and a climate tragedy, “Dimanche,” a collaboration between the Belgian companies Focus and Chaliwaté, makes a comedy of the climate crisis. Absurd and nearly wordless, the brisk 75-minute show at BAM Fisher is composed of a series of vignettes. Each is a devastating example of the climate emergency, expressed playfully — with toys, puppetry, acrobatics and nifty practical effects. “Dimanche” succeeds, in its macabre, elliptical way, in bringing the issue home, with tornadoes whooshing dinner from the table and a shark swimming through a flooded living room. The catastrophe, it’s here, there, everywhere already.

The play, written and directed by Julie Tenret, Sicaire Durieux and Sandrine Heyraud, who also star, begins somewhere in the Arctic Circle. As “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” plays, a three-person camera crew bump along in their van, eager to capture footage of a glacier calving. The shoot almost immediately goes awry and the crew shrinks to two. A similar disaster befalls an expertly puppeteered polar bear and her cub. (Although given that polar bears are prodigious swimmers, this sequence seems more melodramatic than likely.)

In the third sequence, set in an ordinary home, the problem of warming has traveled south. A husband and wife and his mother (another remarkable puppet) swelter in their living room as several fans blow ineffectually. The heat then grows so terrible that the very furniture begins to melt, like the clocks in Dalí’s “The Persistence of Memory,” imagery as disturbing as it is delightful. These moves between the camera crew, the natural world and the domestic space repeat as first a tornado and then a tsunami threaten. There are more Paul Simon songs, too. Our illusion of control over the environment, it’s slip sliding away.

Simon’s lyrics aside, words are sparse in this production and entirely untranslated. (What spoken language there is, it’s in Bulgarian.) The title, the French word for Sunday, is never explained, though it suggests the late-in-the-day nature of the catastrophe. Gorgeously realized and sneakily terrifying, the play moves restively from the silly to the dreadful and back and forth again. I was told that “Dimanche” was appropriate for school-age children. This will depend on how much your children enjoy the violent, weather-related deaths that end most sequences.

Is clowning, however ghastly, an appropriate response to the climate crisis? We are in our current predicament, with worse to come, because too few people have taken it seriously. But some of the current remedies (carbon offsets, tax breaks for corporations who dabble in green energy) can feel like a game, so a playful approach makes a kind of sense. I am someone who tries — recycling, composting, buying secondhand, buying less, turning off lights and appliances fanatically — even as I know how little any of my trying matters. Which can lead, on darker nights, to feelings of despair. “Dimanche” — ingenious, horrifying — suggests an alternative: Sometimes, you just have to laugh.

Through May 13 at BAM Fisher, Brooklyn; Running time: 1 hour 15 minutes.

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