There’s that old saw: everybody talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it. Dimanche, the new theatrical piece looking at the effects of climate change playing at BAM’s Fisher Theatre, turns that joke on its head. No one in Dimanche talks about the weather–in fact, there’s no talking at all (other than a few lines of an Eastern European-sounding language). It’s all action, and funny action, making the argument that if we don’t do something about the disaster unfolding before us, we’re all going to die.
In many ways, the magic of Dimanche defies description. At its base level, it is a collection of connected, interlaced scenes about humans and other animals dealing with the effects of climate change. In one series of scenes, an ill-fated camera crew attempts to document natural phenomena, a task made more challenging by the serial deaths of the crew members. Another group of scenes portrays a multigenerational family trying to get through a very hot day, but they also keep dying one by one. Interspersed are scenes of animal families pulled apart by the changing climate. Oh, yeah–they die, too.
More pertinent than what the scenes are about is the way in which they are told. The seamless combination of amazing, lifelike puppetry, almost balletic live action performance, playful prop-focused scenes, short animated videos, and Brice Cannavo’s carefully designed, feel-it-in-your-bones soundscape produces a wholly satisfying, whimsical mise-en-scène that conveys the dangers of the oncoming climate crisis without hitting the audience over the head.
The show’s playfulness is on display from the opening moments as each performer takes a turn moving a toy RV over a landscape created by the bodies of the two other cast mates. Soon, the RV is replaced by a larger toy RV, and then we are in the RV as the players balance creating the illusion of the RV with the challenges of their characters in the RV. It’s a fun, well-choreographed piece of theater that shows us the action they are creating as they create it. The mechanics of the performance are displayed throughout the show, enhancing our appreciation of what is happening on stage.
After the cameraman dies from one effect of climate change (melting ice), the scene shifts to a doomed polar bear and her cub. The amazing Waw! Studios puppets are wonderfully brought to life by the cast and puppeteers only to be outdone in the next scene when Julie Tenret masterfully gives life to an elderly woman, stuck at home with two family members (Sicaire Durieux and Sandrine Heyraud) where the heat is so oppressive the furniture starts to melt. Even though the puppeteer is plainly visible, the illusion is so convincing it is easy to forget it’s there.
The effects of climate change are dramatized throughout, in melting icebergs and oppressive heat, in tornadoes and hurricanes and flooding. Each disaster is presented with a Chaplinesque mixture of horror, humor, and inventiveness (plus a Paul Simon soundtrack). The end result is a piece that challenges us to look at what is happening to our planet, at what we are doing to the natural world, and to ourselves.