“Dimanche” at the Broad Stage pleases and provokes
by Bondo Wyszpolski
I received an extra graduate degree at UCLA simply by attending dozens and dozens of theatrical and musical performances in Royce Hall, Schoenberg Hall, and the Freud Playhouse. Most of these took place a very long time ago but I was thinking of them recently and the exposure to creative, offbeat, and original endeavors that I found so stimulating. I realized, also, that I hadn’t experienced anything quite so engaging in a long while.
And then “Dimanche” came along, a co-production from two Belgian enterprises, Focus Company and Chaliwaté Company, and I knew, instinctively, this wasn’t to be missed.
Yet it may indeed be missed by those who haven’t seen the performance, concluding its half-week run at 2 p.m. on Sunday, April 16, on the Eli and Edythe Broad State in Santa Monica.
Well, who are these folks and what’s the show about?
“Dimanche,” which as you know means “Sunday” in French, was written and directed by Julie Tenret of Focus, and Sicaire Durieux and Sandrine Heyraud of Chaliwaté. They and their colleagues are well versed in the art of mime and puppetry, the key ingredients here, as well as acting coupled with video projection, music, sound effects and lighting (sorry I can’t list everyone). It seamlessly and often playfully comes together in this 80-minute show.
Subtle humor abounds, but the occasional laugh-out-loud moment is tempered by a jolt of thought-provoking seriousness. Here’s what I mean: A trio of field scientists or researchers make hazardous trips into the wild to document the loss of species habitats, not to mention the species themselves, as the effects of climate change become increasingly severe. We laugh as the trio sits in the front seat of a van that jostles them as they drive over improbable roads somewhere distant and isolated in the Arctic. And all of this is improvised — there is no van, just three actors sitting side by side while Paul Simon’s “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover” plays on the radio. It’s their gestures, grimaces, and so on, which can’t be described in words, that makes this scene riveting and funny.
But after a mishap on the ice while filming video footage (projected on a screen behind the actors), the scene switches to a dying polar bear mother and her spry cub. While we look upon the ailing bear with concern, we smile at the cute antics of the little one — and then the ice floe breaks apart and off goes the cub. Perhaps that gives away a little too much, but you get the idea — the ice is melting and polar bears are in danger of melting into the history books.
We’ll visit the scientists again (diminishing in number themselves), although they not only risk their lives but sacrifice them in the pursuit of documenting for the rest of us what’s going on in the world. Scenes in the wild alternate with scenes inside a family home. The first time we encounter the husband and wife (and mother-in-law?) it’s in the midst of a heatwave, one that’s so hot that not only do the characters sweat (cooling fans aren’t helping) but the very furniture starts to melt (perhaps making us think of the polar bears). Later, having cooked up a large bird — flamingo or goose — that was blown off course or maybe zapped by a lightning bolt, the man and wife find that they can’t even sit down to eat because biblically strong winds are blowing everything away, including, eventually, the couple themselves.
My interpretation of the title, “Dimanche,” is that it’s our day of rest, of repose, but on Monday we all go back to work. However, we want to keep our Sunday routine intact even as nature huffs and puffs and blows the house down. In which case Monday — or should we call it Doomsday? — is already here.
And so “Dimanche” appears to indicate that human beings are still fiddling while Rome begins to burn, and that the barbarians are already at the gate. I will say this, though: We aren’t being hammered over the head or shouted at by another Greta Thunberg. We aren’t being preached at by someone with a bullhorn. Furthermore, we aren’t being bludgeoned by another show touting inclusivity, diversity, and equity (if this show were being staged at the Taper or Ahmanson the polar bear would have been replaced by a brown bear or black bear).
“Dimanche” has the right touch, the right balance, to work several wonders at once — it entertains and amuses, and yet it compels us to seriously reflect upon the precarious state of the natural world and our place in it. Well done on every level.
Dimanche is being performed at 2 p.m., April 16, on the Eli and Edythe Broad Stage, 1310 Eleventh St, Santa Monica. Tickets, $40 and $50, and nearly sold out. (310) 434-3200 or go to broadstage.org/ ER