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Theatre Dept. press release   Date: 12/7/09 Bookmark and Share

Las Meninas Revives a Bit of History

Tickets 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

View video footage of Las Meninas.

A scene from Las Meninas.

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 Meninas, 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.

Director 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.

Lynn Nottage, whose plays also include Ruined, Intimate Apparel, Fabulation, 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.

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