Meninas Revives a Bit of History
for Las Meninas are $8, general public, $5 students/seniors.
Wednesday, Dec. 9, is Dollar Night for all students. Call
413-585-ARTS (2787) or email firstname.lastname@example.org
A scene from Las Meninas.
a hilarious and heart-wrenching play by prominent African
American playwright Lynn Nottage, recreates a forgotten piece
of history through a romance between Hapsburg princess Marie-Thérèse,
brought from Spain to be Louis XIV’s Queen, and Nabo Sensugali,
an African dwarf sent as a gift for her royal amusement.
Their affair produced a daughter,
Louise Marie- Thérèse,
who was immediately whisked off to a convent, never to he
heard from again…until now.
A production of Las
directed by Ellen Kaplan, professor of theatre, will continue
Wednesday through Saturday, Dec. 9-12, at 8 p.m. in Hallie
Flanagan Studio Theatre, Mendenhall Center.
“The play is a mix of politics and really good royal dish,” noted San Francisco
Weekly about Las Meninas. “‘French Queen Has Black Dwarf’s Baby’ would be a tabloid
cover for the ages…”
Lynn Nottage was inspired to
write the play after reading an essay about the African presence
in royal families. There was one paragraph that mentioned
the illicit romance between an African dwarf and the Queen
Marie Thérèse of France.
She spent eight years researching this paragraph before confirming its truth.
The play takes its title from
Diego Velázquez’ masterpiece, “Las Meninas,” painted
in 1656, a picture of the Spanish royal family, with the Infanta attended by
her ladies-in-waiting (the meninas) and by her “pet” dwarves. The famous painting
questions what is it that we see, and what is there and what is not there.
Ellen W. Kaplan says the painting strongly influenced her
staging of the play, such as the decision to do the play
in the round. She says, “Like the painting,
the story is different depending on where you stand, so doing the play in the
round makes a perfect connection between the two. Louis’ world is a baroque world
of über ornamentation and symmetry,” Kaplan continues, “a hedonistic avalanche
of embellishment with its use of lace, ruffles, wigs and decorative but uncomfortable
furniture, not a world that either Marie-Thérèse or Nabo fit into well. And from
this tension springs the humor and pathos of the play.” Kaplan also infuses the
riveting story with music, dance, and masquerade.
whose plays also include Ruined, Intimate
and The Re-Education of Undine, is considered by many among
the top contemporary American playwrights. She is the recipient
of numerous awards, including the 2007 MacArthur Foundation “Genius
Grant,” the National Black Theatre Festival’s August Wilson Playwriting Award,
the 2004 PEN/Laura Pels Award for Drama, and the 2005 Guggenheim Grant for Playwriting.