Timothy Olyphant Charms In Lonergran's Achy-Breaky 'Darling'

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, clocking in at 2 hours and 45 minutes and premiering at the Atlantic Theater Company, 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.

The play is entertaining and engaging, performed by a top-rate ensemble and directed with finesse by Neil Pepe, but its long reach for political and social resonance is a stretch, with Strings and those around him equating or manipulating his celebrity life and personal angst to a larger moral drift of the country.

Leaving the sci-fi epic he was filming to return to his hometown for the funeral of his momma, Strings realizes he’s been looking at life through the smoked glass of his limousine and living in a world without true feelings. And though those celebrity push-up-brassiere parties were fun, he’s decided to make some changes — even if he doesn’t know what they are just yet.

He announces this change-of-life resolve to his enabling personal assistant, the wide-eyed and worshipful Jimmy (Keith Nobbs, with terrific comic timing) who is always at the ready, “right on the corner of Beck and Call.” But even Jimmy is at first dubious of Strings’ intent.