Review Roundup: Kenneth Lonergan's HOLD ON TO ME DARLING Opens Off-Broadway

Atlantic Theater Company presents the world premiere of Academy Award nominee and Pulitzer Prize finalist Kenneth Lonergan's latest play HOLD ON TO ME DARLING, directed by Atlantic Artistic Director Neil Pepe. HOLD ON TO ME DARLING officially opens tonight, March 14.

HOLD ON TO ME DARLING features Adelaide Clemens ("Rectify"), Tony Award nominee Jonathan Hogan (As Is), Jenn Lyon (Fish in the Dark), Keith Nobbs (Lombardi), Emmy Award nominee Timothy Olyphant ("Justified") and C.J. Wilson (Bronx Bombers).

On learning of his mother's death, world famous country and western star Strings McCrane (Olyphant) begins questioning the meaning of his life and what it all adds up to. Determined to abandon his celebrity and career, he moves back to his hometown in Tennessee. It doesn't go well. This compelling new play from acclaimed playwright Kenneth Lonergan examines the costs of fame, fortune and narcissism in pursuit of the American Dream.

Let's see what the critics had to say...

Ben Brantley, The New York Times: Strings McCrane, a country music and movie star, talks way too much, and half the time he doesn't even know what he's saying. As embodied by an entertainingly irritating Timothy Olyphant in "Hold On to Me Darling," which opened on Monday night at the Linda Gross Theater of the Atlantic Theater Company, Strings is a walking, whining confirmation of our suspicions that the rich and famous really are different from you and me: They're a lot more shallow and needy. Still, you're likely to find yourself hanging on every one of Strings's self-contradicting, self-dramatizing words. That's because he is the creation of Kenneth Lonergan, a writer with one of the best ears around for the language of the morally challenged -- a term that I would say applies to most of the human race.

Jennifer Farrar, Associated Press: 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...starring the charismatic Timothy Olyphant as earnestly soul-searching Strings, who plunges into an identity crisis following the death of his mother...Olyphant...makes Strings charmingly obtuse as he abruptly decides to simplify his life...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.

Frank Rizzo, Variety: Country music superstar Strings McCrane is trying to get real -- but in Kenneth Lonergan's funny, beguiling but overwritten new play "Hold On To Me Darling," reality isn't one of the singer's strong points. Self-absorption is, and if he wasn't played with such honeyed charm and awe-shucks sincerity by Timothy Olyphant, this show...would be one long, achy-breaky night. But Olyphant's return to the stage since clicking in TV-land ("Justified," "Deadwood") is a stunner, striking just the right notes of guilelessness, obliviousness and narcissism to make Strings one of the most appealing messes in a long time.

David Cote, Time Out NY: Among the classic motifs of a country & western song are lost love, patriotic pride, Mama, dogs and loneliness as wide as the prairie. For his sixth play since This Is Our Youth, Kenneth Lonergan omits the pooches but includes the rest-and then some-for a scruffy, shaggy and touchingly earnest portrait of celebrity in free fall. A pilgrim's progress for a Garth Brooks-like megastar, Hold on to Me Darling is the Lonergan we've always loved: poet laureate of verbose losers, this time with a Tennessee drawl.

Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News: [Lonergan's] new Off-Broadway comedy-drama "Hold On to Me Darling" about a rudderless celebrity is flecked with laughs and some terrific acting but the nearly 3-hour play suffers from aimlessness of its own...Strings juggles women and considers trading fame for his hometown roots, but Lonergan's script isn't toothy enough to work as a satire on celebrity. So it unspools like a low-stakes southern-fried sitcom. Also nagging is Olyphant's lead performance. He's an actor with impressive credits but radiates such little star power as Strings. Between his acting, the script and direction by Neil Pepe, this singer is one-note and the play loses sharp focus. All of the other characters are more colorful and more vividly performed.

Robert Hofler, TheWrap: "Hold on to Me Darling" is great, fun theater because 1) Lonergan has real talent, and 2) he takes that extra hour-plus to develop not only a truly inspired principal character with the delicious name Strings McCrane but surrounds him with five other characters, each of whom exudes enough backstory to spawn five other plays...Without giving away too much of the story, let's just say Strings' family and relatives are played by a superb ensemble..."Hold on to Me Darling" doesn't ramble so much as it takes its time, and director Neil Pepe keeps all the comic moments percolating, one on top of the other.

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Photo Credit: Ahron R. Foster

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