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I'm not sure what is more intriguing about "Las Meninas," the 2002 Lynn Nottage play on the boards of Rep Stage -- the strange plot itself, or the fact that it might all be grounded in fact.

Seizing on some hard facts and tantalizing gossip from the time, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Nottage spins a tale of Louis XIV and his Spanish-born queen, Marie-Therese. When the neglected, frustrated queen receives an off-beat gift -- an African dwarf named Nabo -- things get curiouser and curiouser.

Adding to the fascination is the presence of a nun, Louise Marie-Therese, who serves as ..

a guide through the courtly doings in the play. Her connection to what happened between the queen and the dwarf provides a key element in the drama. (You can Google your way to more info on this character, aka the Black Nun of Moret.)

"Las Meninas" feels a bit padded in places and runs out of theatrical steam in others, but it makes its points about privilege, sex and race in a mostly telling, often wonderfully provocative way. There is considerable humor along the way, too, some of it visual and unabashedly vulgar.

The Rep Stage production, fluidly directed by Eve Muson, gains considerably from Elena Zlotescu's transparent set and fanciful costumes, which produce a symphony in fancy white. Dan Covey's expert lighting provides the finishing visual touch.

The performance by Katie Hileman, as the queen, is a little stiff and studied at times, but the net result is effective nonetheless. KeiLyn Durrel Jones, who has to spend a lot of time in a severely stooped position to suggest Nabo's height, creates a rather endearing portrayal of the queen's clever plaything.

Drew Kopas does a colorful job as the king. As Louise Marie-Therese, Fatima Quander tends to stick to one volume and tone of delivery, but she summons a good deal of expressive power for the closing portion of the play.

Susan Rome shines in a dual assignment as the Queen Mother and Mother Superior. Tony Tsendeas likewise does accomplished work in a pair of supporting roles. A frilly, foppish group of courtiers fills out the staging of this imaginative, multi-layered play.

Performances continue through Sunday.

In a nice coincidence of timing, a production of "Ruined," the piece that earned Nottage her Pulitzer in 2009, opens this week at the Fells Point Corner Theatre


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