When is a pipe not a pipe?

René Magritte’s 1929 painting La Trahison des images is best known for the text it contains: painted in a curlicue script beneath the curved image of a pipe are the words, “Ceci n’est pas une pipe.” The paradox brings us not to the depth of the pipe but the surface, gleaming with a plastic finish, nothing but paint. (Of course, the words are also only paint; our cultural indoctrination makes us misread them as meaningful.)

This Is Not a PipeThrough 11/19: Fri-Sat 8 PM, Ebenezer Lutheran Church, 1650 W. Foster, danztheatre.org, $13-$20 (children under 15 free)

The simplicity of this “icon of modern art” has made it an easy joke to repeat. And repetition is at the core of Chicago Danztheatre Ensemble’s 2006 This Is Not a Pipe, directed and devised by Ellyzabeth Adler with the assistance of Hannah Blau. Black suits, blue skies, bowler hats, and apples easily transport viewers to the surrealist world Magritte created. “Molly!” choirs the ensemble like a Meisner repetition exercise, until it vanishes. A duet by Mia Hilt and Mary Iris Loncto questions whether identity is the reason the same steps look different on different dancers. Sigmund Freud (Jenise Y. Sheppard) appears, accusing women of penis envy, before being revealed (by removal of beard and suit) as a woman. “I am enough!” and other self-affirmations become the new chorus before the backdrop falls away, revealing a blood-red rose, from which a woman (Wannapa P-Eubanks), shrouded in a tight red veil and scarlet wedding gown, emerges. However, in a work that claims to resist a one-to-one interpretation of symbols, This Is Not a Pipe can’t resist a commitment to the surface.

Wednesday, November 30, 2022 at the Museum of Contemporary Art

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