NEW YORK (AP) — How tiresome it must be to be rich, famous and sought-after all the time, right?
These are just some of the tribulations besetting country music superstar Strings McCrane in the world premiere of Kenneth Lonergan's comedy "Hold on to Me Darling."
A smart, light-hearted production opened Monday night at off-Broadway's Atlantic Theater Company, starring the charismatic Timothy Olyphant as earnestly soul-searching Strings, who plunges into an identity crisis following the death of his mother.
Lonergan is the Oscar-nominated screenwriter of "You Can Count on Me" and author of many plays, including his breakout "This Is Our Youth." His latest work humorously delves into themes of loss, identity and the downside of fame.
Olyphant, best-known for his Emmy-nominated work in the FX series "Justified," makes Strings charmingly obtuse as he abruptly decides to simplify his life. But his plan to shuck the trappings of wealth and celebrity by returning to his small-town roots in Beaumont, Tennessee, doesn't go as planned. Strings has maintained an adolescent disregard for consequences and other people's feelings well into his fourth decade, and struggles with the aftermaths of one impulsive mistake after another.
Lonergan's gift with deceptively simple dialogue allows the characters to unintentionally reveal their flaws. Strings exposes a lifetime of selfishness with nearly every remark.
Jenn Lyon is primly deceptive as hotel masseuse Nancy, seeming sweet and deserving at first. Lyon disguises her jealousy as pious concern for Strings' spiritual well-being and the need to keep America morally "clean." Things turn a little darker when Nancy tries to bulldoze over Strings' attractive, younger cousin Essie, portrayed as both sweet and spunky by Adelaide Clemens.
C. J. Wilson marvelously portrays Strings' older half-brother, Duke, stuck in dead-end jobs and gruffly clear-eyed about his brother's shortcomings. Keith Nobbs provides crucial support as Strings' worshipful personal assistant, Jimmy, who, despite the occasional resentful outburst, remains as loyal as a puppy. Jonathan Hogan makes a deeply moving appearance at the last minute as Strings' long-estranged father, but the abrupt ending, following a cliff-hanger of a scene between Hogan and Olyphant, feels rushed.
The play is too long, partly due to Neil Pepe's lingering direction in some scenes. Strings' poor decision-making and "moral dilemmas" take time to come home to roost, and watching a spoiled, rich celebrity mess up his life for over 2 1/2 hours can become slightly tiresome, no matter how comical the dialogue or how likable the lucky ingrate may be.