The production, which drew a small crowd on Saturday afternoon, also marks the directorial debut of Nora Theatre Company’s new artistic director, Lee Mikeska Gardner, whose biography and theatrical accomplishments are numerous.
Unfortunately, Lavery’s play, which an occasional critic has deemed hilarious while others (and some theatergoers) grimaced through it, stone-faced, isn’t up to Lavery’s otherwise award-winning works. It’s supposed to be a hilarious play about two real and two fictitious women falling in love, paralleling each other as the play progresses, but it depends too heavily on the actresses’ comedic skill and timing.
Lynn R. Guerra and Aimee Rose Ranger energetically and effortlessly switch characters, accents, costumes, and gender, while seamlessly morphing from their American contemporary personas, in their contemporary apartments, into Victorian-era. romance novel characters, in Cornwall, England. Musical Director Mary Bichner,with musicians Sue Buzzard and Christopher McClain, lend fine touches to Veronica Barron’s original music and songs.
The three musicians, seated on a raised platform in the back, left-hand corner, perform a pre-show set, showcasing their fine musicianship, while easing theatergoers into the proper frame of mind.
Frame? Yes. Set designer Steven Royal’s huge, wooden frame suspends askew, over the stage (floor), but is barely used, diminishing its significance. A handsome, background, red curtain,on the left side, adds dash, with an overlapping painted forest on the right-hand side.
The stage is barren, save a few items strewn about, to make way for larger items, like chairs and a bed on wheels.
Theatergoers are forewarned to stay in their seats during the performance, because the actresses use the aisles, the entire stage floor space, and amid the audience at times. They also get up close and personal with theatergoers, making eye contact.
Like any comedy, “Her Aching Heart” incorporates exaggeration, hyperbole, which Ranger (who is also a local standup comedian) applies too liberally at times. She has great comic chops, but when she whirls around like a tempest in a teapot or stomps frenetically, she’s not funny, not even to younger theatergoers. That doesn’t diminish Ranger’s ability to portray several diverse characters with aplomb.
She’s charming as romantic novel character, Molly Penhollow, wide-eyed, 18-year-old village maiden and outspoken animal protectress, who defies Lady Harriet Hellstone during a regal fox hunt. At first, the two romance novel characters form a love-hate relationship, that eventually evolves into a sensuous lesbian relationship.
Ranger also portrays Betsy, Lady Harriet’s cockney-accented, buxom, male-preyed-upon servant; Sir Rothemere, a, pompous, exploitive, suitor after Lady Harriet’s hand - and money, garbed in Leslie Held’s handsome costume, topped with a Captain Hook-type, long, black curly wig. Her exaggerated swagger befits his pomposity and wantonness.
Danielle Pointe-Tezana’s balletic, fight choreography during Rothermore’s fencing duel with Lady Harriet is athletic and funny.
Ranger’s equally comfortable as contemporary Molly, who’s building a relationship with her new girlfriend, Harriet. Coincidentally, they’re reading the same pulp romantic novel, “Her Aching Heart,” at the same pace, forging a conversational bridge in their new relationship.
Guerra’s versatility and comedic talent shine, especially when she portrays Molly’s bent-over, palsied, yet kindly Granny; Molly’s white-faced, simpleton, farmhand suitor, Joshua; and Harriet, then and now.
Guerra’s singing voice is harmonious and pleasing, especially in solos, “Uninvited” and “Good Manners” and her duets with lustier-toned Ranger in “It’s Spring,” and “In Love Again”.
“Her Aching Heart” isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, including mine; but for folks who like sophomoric, banal theater, it may be their banquet
BOX INFO: Two-act comedy, written by Bryony Lavery, directed by Nora Theater Company new artistic director, Lee Mikeska Gardner, through Aug. 10, at Central Square Theatre, 450 Mass. Ave., Cambridge. Performances: Wednesday, Thursday, at 7:30 p.m.; Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 3 and 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m. Tickets start at $15. Call the Box Office at 866-811-4111 or visit CentralSquareTheater.org. For more information and group discounts, call 617-576-9278, Ext. 210.