‘Her Aching Heart’ is just right for summer viewing
CAMBRIDGE — Fairly or not, romance novels have been seen through the years as something that might be read by those whose own romantic lives at the time might not have been — how shall we say it — robust.
The more explicit and sexually adventurous examples of the genre are called “bodice rippers.”
About 90 percent of the readers of romance novels are women, so it makes sense that many of the readers of those novels might also be gay.
It also makes sense that those gay readers might project themselves — and their relationships — onto the template of romantic novels and while romantic novels heavily tended to be heterosexual until fairly recently, a growing sector of the genre has to do with same-sex relationships.
It is just that kind of relationship that is at the core of “Her Aching Heart,” the debut production from the Nora Theatre Company’s new artistic director, Lee Mikeska Gardner.
“Her Aching Heart” by Bryony Lavery both pays homage to romantic novels while simultaneously skewering the genre and its stereotypical situations and characters.
The romance novel at the center of the action is the story of two women in love in Victorian England in the 1780s — the willful, haughty aristocrat Harriet Hellstone (Lynn R. Guerra ) and the sweetly pure country maiden Molly Penhallow (Aimee Rose Ranger).
A passionate affair ensues, conducted amidst the entrance of exit and oft-hilarious characters, all played by Guerra and Ranger, with quick-change artistry transforming themselves into Molly’s grandmother or the lusty, loutish, sword-bearing Lord Rothmere, who engages in an energetic swordfight well-choreographed by Danielle Point-Tezana.
Molly, it turns out , is animal lover but has a reverse Midas touch when it comes to them, with hilarious consequences. The menfolk the two encounter during their adventures usually aren’t faring any better.
It just so happens that two real-life, modern-day women named Harriet and Molly — also portrayed by Guerra and Ranger — are engrossed in the same said romance novel, and while their story and relationship — told in a parallel fashion — takes back seat much of the time to the fictional characters, it is no less passionate or engaging, especially as both sort through the myriad of emotions that are part of any relationship.
Molly and Harriet experience the ups and downs of their own budding relationship, and music enters the fray in a big way, since “Her Aching Heart” might also be a excellent title of a Country Western tune about the ups and downs of a relationship.
The original songs by Veronica Barron performed by a quartet of musicians led by Mary Bichner work — to a degree, giving voice to the angst of both lead characters in the throes of a relationship — but by the end I had the feeling that a bit less would have been more, and in the end there was too much of a disconnect from the story.
“Her Aching Heart” wouldn’t work so well if Playwright Lavery didn’t have such a keen ear in replicating the pulsating prose of the romance novel while also creating compelling characters.
In her maiden voyage on the Central Square stage, Gardner, the Nora’s new artistic director, has helmed a production that is great fun, sharply and skillfully acted and briskly directed, and just the right weight for summertime viewing.
The Nora Theatre Company production of “Her Aching Heart,” by Byrony Lavery. Directed by Lee Mikeska Gardner At the Central Square Theatre through Aug. 10. http://www.centralsquaretheater.org.