On learning of the death of his mother back home in Tennessee, world famous singing/acting star Strings McCrane decides it is time to change his empty though well-compensated celebrity life. Returning to his hometown and abandoning the film he is making, he suggests to his estranged brother Duke that he will buy the local Ernie’s Feed Store for the two of them, become a salesman, and settle down in town with a wife. This would entail shutting down the sci-fi film he is currently making in Kansas City and canceling the tour for his new cd, which result in enormous unforeseen problems. In the meantime, the vulnerable and single Strings has become involved with Nancy, a married masseuse he has met at the hotel in K.C., a beautiful blonde gold-digger who realizes a good thing when she sees it. At the funeral, Strings is reunited with his cousin Essie, a simple country girl with real values. Unfortunately, nothing works out the way Strings has expected and his new life becomes more complicated than his old one.
Strings isa self-dramatizing, hypocritical, complaining 39-year-old who is constantly taking his emotional temperature, while at the same time responsible for a great deal of bad boy behavior partly made possible by his associates and acquaintances. However, as played by the charming Mr. Olyphant we feel that Strings believes everything he says. Almost every third sentence he utters sounds like a new song title but in his mouth these lines sound completely believable – since he believes them. As the sanctimonious opportunist who latches on to a gold mine as soon as she sees him, Jenn Lyon is subtle enough to hide her character’s real intentions until almost the end of the play. Making her New York debut, Australian star Adelaide Clemens is the sweet, home-spun and honest Cousin Essie with whom you will be rooting that Strings ends up.
As Strings’ older brother Duke, C.J. Wilson is terrific at continually cutting through all of his celebrity brother’s rubbish and rants to apprise him straightforwardly of the reality of things for the working man. Keith Nobbs is fine as Strings’ personal assistant of 12 years who fiercely protects him as well as his own job. In a final scene revelation, Jonathan Hogan arrives to deliver the honesty and reality that Strings has claimed to look for all along. Each event and character offers another level of satire on the price of celebrity fame and success, quite a remarkable piece of writing.
The elaborate production designed by Walt Spengler (and lit by Brian MacDevitt) uses a turntable for the many detailed hotel rooms and small town locales that make up the story. Suttirat Anne Larlab’s costumes are as real as the sets. Sound design by David van Tieghem introduces us to the kind of songs that have made Strings famous. Stephen Gabis is responsible for the dialects which bring Kansas City and Tennessee to life.
In the hands of someone other than Timothy Olyphant, Strings McCrane might be a self-pitying monster too extreme to take seriously. However, this brilliantly accomplished actor has just the right amount of blarney to make Kenneth Lonergan’s Hold On to Me Darling one of the most satisfying plays in town. And you will learn a good deal about the lives of the rich and famous and how they get away with the antics they commit.
Hold On to Me Darling (extended through April 17, 2016)
Atlantic Theater Company
Linda Gross Theater, 336 W. 20th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 866-811-4111 or visit http://www.AtlanticTheater.org
Running time: two hours and 45 minutes including one intermission