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BWW REVIEWS: Two Bawdy Romances Brighten Boston's Summer

Girl Gets Girl in Feisty Bodice Ripper HER ACHING HEART

Written by Bryony Lavery; original music by Veronica Barron; directed by Lee Mikeska Gardner; music director/arranger, Mary Bichner; scenic design, Steven Royal; costume design, Leslie Held; lighting design, John R. Malinowski; sound design, Ben Emerson; fight choreographer, Danielle Pointe-Tezana; stage manager, Dominique D. Burford; assistant stage manager, Jenna Clarke


Aimee Rose Ranger as Molly; Lynn R. Guerra as Harriet; music ensemble: Mary Bichner, Sue Buzzard, Christopher McClain, and Rachel Pantich

Performances and Tickets:

Now through August 10, Nora Theatre Company, Central Square Theater, 450 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA; tickets start at $15 and can be purchased at or by calling 866-811-4111.

Two actresses, four women, and a lesbian twist on the steamy Victorian romance novel fuel the sassy and charming HER ACHING HEART, Bryony Lavery's sly, satiric, rollicking, and delightful two-hander continuing at the Central Square Theater in Cambridge through August 10. Presented by the Nora Theatre Company under the direction of the company's new artistic director Lee Mikeska Gardner, this comical riff on the classic pot-boiler sparkles with wit and wisdom thanks to the versatile acting talents of Aimee Rose Ranger and Lynn R. Guerra and feisty original music by Veronica Barron.

Barron's eight pop songs (played by a terrific four-piece band) are inflected with a driving, bluesy country twang, and as sung by Ranger and Guerra they mark the emotional milestones in the developing relationship between present-day lesbians Molly and Harriet. The songs also serve as theatrical chapter titles for the trashy novel both women happen to be reading at the same time.

As Molly and Harriet's romance tentatively blossoms, their ups and downs are mirrored and magnified by the fictional Molly and Harriet who, within the pages of HER ACHING HEART, share a forbidden throbbing passion that dare not speak its name. When the mounting action within the novel becomes more and more extreme, so, too, do the "real" Molly and Harriet begin to shed their inhibitions. Sometimes at a breakneck pace, the two actresses are called upon to play both the contemporary and fictional Victorian women and all of the other characters in the novel - including Molly and Harriet's lascivious male suitors. The result is a grand double tour de force, and it's an awful lot of fun.

Harriet (Guerra) is the spoiled, headstrong, willful heiress of the novel whose hair-trigger temper and unbridled haughtiness hide a love-hungry heart. Molly (Ranger) is the earthy commoner-servant who takes no guff and has what it takes to tame Harriet. As the two engage in a battle of repressed desires, all of the romance novel clichés and symbols manifest themselves in ribald, and sometimes bloody, plot twists. Meanwhile the vulnerable contemporary Harriet and her more confident partner Molly fall more and more deeply in love.

Both Guerra and Ranger are able to sashay their way through split-second character changes beautifully. They also handle the exaggerated melodramatic tone of the novel within the play as agilely as they infuse Barron's smart love songs with emotions that are alternately angry, hopeful, sarcastic, and, yes, aching.

Costume designer Leslie Held brings a dash of colorful whimsy to the early Victorian sequences, and set designer Steven Royal along with lighting designer John R. Malinowski turn Central Square's three-sided black box into multiple locales from a British country manor to an urban American bedroom. Ben Emerson's clever sound design suggests everything from a fox hunt gone terribly wrong to the thwack of the French guillotine. Numerous props are also brought into play to great comic effect.

There's one week left to enjoy this ribald Victorian bodice ripper. The Nora Theatre Company has done an excellent job bringing HER ACHING HEART vividly from page to stage.

PHOTOS BY A.P. SINCLAIR: Lynn R. Guerra as Harriet and Aimee Rose Ranger as Molly; Lynn R. Guerra and Aimee Rose Ranger; Aimee Rose Ranger and Lynn R. Guerra

Air of Frivolity Fills TWELFTH NIGHT

Written by William Shakespeare; directed by Steven Maler; costume design, Nancy Leary; sound design and song settings, David Remedios; lighting design, Eric Southern; scenic design, Cristina Todesco; choreography, Yo-el Cassell; production stage manager, Margaret Kayes

Cast in Order of Appearance:

Viola, Marianna Bassham; Captain/Priest, Jerry Goodwin; Orsino, Robert Najarian; Sir Toby Belch, Robert Pemberton; Maria, Sheree Galpert; Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Conner Christiansen; Feste, Remo Airaldi; Olivia, Kerry O'Malley; Malvolio, Fred Sullivan, Jr.; Antonio, Woody Gaul; Sebastian/Fight Captain, Nile Hawver; Fabian, Juan Rodriguez; Curio, Timothy Kopacz; Valentine, Nick Chris; Ensemble: Amanda Fuller, Charlotte Kinder, Fleece, Jesse Gabbard

Performances and Tickets:

Now through August 10, Commonwealth Shakespeare Company, Boston Common. Performances are free and open to the public, Tuesday through Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 7 p.m. For reserved "Friends Section" chairs, visit or call 617-426-0863. Weather hotline is 781-239-5972.

More great summer fare is available free and outdoors as the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company celebrates its 19th season of presenting Shakespeare on the Common with a fun and frivolous production of TWELFTH NIGHT. Starring Broadway's Kerry O'Malley as the beautiful countess Olivia and a host of Boston luminaries alongside her, this lighthearted yet at times bawdy rendering demonstrates Shakespeare's ability to address lofty romantic ideals while still appealing to the masses.

Stock characters and familiar tropes abound in TWELFTH NIGHT: mistaken identities, women disguised as men, fools putting one over on the nobles (and each other), and star-crossed lovers pursuing those who are madly in love with someone else. The interwoven plot threads are not much more than an excuse to revel in the joy of foolish romance and turning accepted social conventions on their ears.

When a shipwreck separates twins Viola (a terrific Marianna Bassham) and Sebastian (NileHawver) who each think the other has perished at sea, Viola decides that the best way to travel safely in the world is to pretend to be a young man named Cesario. She/he quickly becomes a servant in the court of Duke Orsino (a rather passionless Robert Najarian), who enlists her/him to sway Olivia to return Orsino's love. Olivia will have none of it, falling instead for the young Cesario - much to Viola's chagrin. Meanwhile, Viola falls hard for Orsino, and Sebastian, upon arriving in Illyria unbeknownst to his sister, falls head over heels for Olivia.

Others vainly pursue Olivia, as well. Both Malvolio (the divinely pompous yet sympathetic Fred Sullivan, Jr.) and Sir Andrew Aguecheek (the one-dimensionally fey Conner Christiansen) are duped into wooing mode by Olivia's drunken uncle Sir Toby Belch (an oddly mean-spirited Robert Pemberton). Olivia's scheming gentlewoman Maria (the decidedly ungentle Sheree Galpert) and servant Fabian (Juan Rodriguez) assist in the duplicity. Adding to the mayhem is the court jester Feste (an inscrutable Remo Airaldi) who wryly spins riddles and sings curious songs all the while seeming somehow to be guiding the outcome of the machinations within Orsino's court and Olivia's household.

While the men have their moments in TWELFTH NIGHT (Sullivan, Airaldi, Rodriguez, and Woody Gaul as the heroic captain Antonio in particular), it's the women who ultimately rule in this production. Bassham unleashes Viola's pent up passion, nobility, humor and wit in the guise of Cesario but tempers her young man's bravado with her young woman's heart. O'Malley positively sparkles as Olivia. She starts out vain and self-assured but melts into a puddle of lovelorn insecurities when Cesario won't return her overtures of love. She is a vision as Olivia, and every word, movement and gesture befit this royal object of everyone's desire.

Cristina Todesco's op-art set, complete with hidden doors and swirling waves and flowers, brings to mind the vaudeville-style panels featured in the late 1960s television show Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In. I half expected Goldie Hawn and Joanne Worley to appear trading bad puns and even worse knock-knock jokes. Nancy Leary's eclectic and vivid costumes also have a contemporary feel without being specific to any one time period. Although neither the set nor the costumes serve to clarify anything about the story or the characters, they don't detract from the performances, either.

Like the Boston Pops on the Esplanade on the 4th of July, Shakespeare on the Common has come to be one of the great family highlights of summer in the city. There's one week left with performances of TWELFTH NIGHT running through August 10. So pack your blanket, beach chair and picnic and become one of Shakespeare's groundlings for a night.

PHOTOS BY ANDREW BRILLIANT: Marianna Bassham as Viola, Robert Najarian as Orsino, Kerry O'Malley as Olivia and Nile Hawver as Sebastian; Sheree Galpert as Maria, Conner Christiansen as Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Robert Pemberton as Sir Toby Belch and Remo Airaldi as Feste; Fred Sullivan, Jr. as Malvolio; Juan Rodriguez as Fabian, Robert Pemberton and Conner Christiansen; Marianna Bassham and Kerry O'Malley

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Jan Nargi is owner and creative director of JMN Publications, a marketing and public relations firm based in Boston, Mass. She provides consultation, communications, and writing services to clients... (read more about this author)