Review: Las Meninas (Ilna Theatre Collective)

A Possible Story Behind Velázquez’s Las Meninas Takes the Stage in Toronto

Picture of actors in Las MeninasDeceit, betrayal, lies, and murder all take place in the Spanish court of Las Meninas, staged at Red Sandcastle Theatre.

The play is set over a fictitious day in the Spanish court. Trouble brews when princesses come from other countries as ambassadors to discuss Spain’s colonial movements. Everything takes place as Diego Velázquez composes his famous piece, Las Meninas.

The director, Fatima Qaraan, is an ambitious theatre student studying at York and Ryerson University. Las Meninas is staged by her theatre collective Ilna, which translates to ‘ours’ in Arabic. Before the play begins, Qaraan tells me this collective has worked together in the past, but this is their first time in a real theatre.

Red Sandcastle Theatre itself is an intimate space with just 42 seats. In this production, the actors play to the audience in the round. I enjoyed the hustle and bustle of the exits and entrances that a play surrounded by the audience allows.

Las Meninas ambitiously enacts a tension-filled, political plot that is both fictitious and grounded in historical facts. I love that real historical details exist in the background while the theatrics play out in the foreground.

Many of the characters were real people, including King Felipe IV of Spain and his royal favourite, Olivares. Colonization was, of course, the mainstay of the Spanish Empire, particularly in the 1600s, when this play is set.

The play begins on a strong foot. I very much enjoyed the tableau vivant some of the actors created while Velázquez paints and the business of the Spanish court goes on around them.

The production is able to do this because of its enormous cast. However, with 16 actors in a 60-minute play, individual character plots felt rushed. It’s worth noting that play is billed as 90 minutes, but it actually only runs 60 minutes long.

For me, the production is so focused on the historical plot, there is no room left for the theatrical side. My guest described Las Meninas as having the pageantry and murders of a Shakespeare history, without the grand speeches.

For my guest and I, all the business and technical machinations of the court and its visitors were quite hard to follow. Neither of us was able to discern some of the major political details. For instance, which country two of the ambassadors were representing, or the reason for betrayal in the court.

While I feel the play’s formality usurped its passions, all the actors delivered their performances with heart. The character of Monja María is excellent. The actress brings a professional delivery and cohesive plotline to a tangled play.

Among the play’s successes is the costume design by Patricia Ann Aldridge. Aldridge is a well-known icon in Toronto, who’s longstanding Cabaggetown store, Take a Walk on the Wild Side, is considered an institution. The beautiful costumes she created for this play really help bring the historical accuracy to life.

Las Meninas is a very deliberately diverse production. Actors’ genders don’t necessarily reflect their characters’ genders, and Spanish is spoken as freely as English. With no translation available, the play subtly comments on ideas of colonialism, immigration, and foreignness.

This is certainly a difficult play to stage. For me, the production was ultimately not successful, but the Ilna Theatre Collective is an inspiringly driven group of young artists, and I look forward to their next project.

Details

  • Las Meninas is playing until July 28, 2019 at Red Sandcastle Theatre (922 Queen Street East)
  • Shows run at 8pm
  • Tickets are $20, $15 for students, artists, activists, and seniors with valid ID
  • Tickets are available online, or in person at the box office

Photo of actors provided by the company

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