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Kenneth Lonergan, the most talented American playwright of his generation, has done something unusual—he’s written a play. That makes six in 20 years, not nearly enough from so gifted an author, so I’m glad to report that “Hold On to Me Darling” is as fine as its first four predecessors. It’s also surprising: I wasn’t expecting Mr. Lonergan to return to the stage with a comedy, especially since his last effort, “Medieval Play,” was a too-broad spoof that didn’t quite work. Not so his new play, exceedingly well directed by Neil Pepe, in which he blends satire with strong, straightforward emotion to complex and poignant effect.
With a writer as subtle as Mr. Lonergan, appearances are usually deceiving. “Hold On to Me Darling” initially appears to be a comic retelling of the thrice-told tale of the corrupting effects of celebrity. Strings McCrane (Timothy Olyphant) is a country singer who came from nowhere and now has everything—except for his mother, who has just died, leaving him operatically bereft: “I been dead inside for years, and now Mama’s passin’ away has woke me up and I don’t like it.” So he decides to ditch his career, marry his masseuse (Jenn Lyon), return to his home town, buy the local feed store, go into business with his half-brother (C.J. Wilson) and his fawning personal assistant (Keith Nobbs) and live happily ever after.
All this foolery has a smart, piquant screwball flavor reminiscent of Preston Sturges’ “Sullivan’s Travels.” But Mr. Lonergan also has a pair of hole cards, Strings’ cousin Essie (Adelaide Clemens) and his long-lost father (Jonathan Hogan), who have not previously been part of his life and so are untouched by his wealth and fame. Accordingly, both characters are played straight—the laughter stops each time they take the stage—and their arrival blasts Strings out of his self-obsession and forces him to see himself as he really is.
If “Hold On to Me Darling” sounds like two unrelated plays that have been uneasily yoked together, that’s how it feels at first. But Mr. Lonergan knows what he’s doing…
Perfection needs no commentary, so I’ll make it short and sweet: The Roundabout Theatre Company’s revival of “She Loves Me” is ideal. The show itself, a 1963 stage version of “The Shop Around the Corner,” Ernst Lubitsch’s 1940 romcom about two perfume-store clerks who love each other but don’t know it, is the most romantic of all Broadway musicals. Scott Ellis’ fleet, warm-hearted staging and Warren Carlyle’s witty dances do complete justice to Joe Masteroff’s charming book and the delicious Jerry Bock-Sheldon Harnick score: Every number pays off and every laugh lands with a bang. The sublime cast is led by Zachary Levi and Laura Benanti, who are as good onstage as Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan were in the film….
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To read my review of Hold On to Me Darling, go here.
To read my review of She Loves Me, go here.
Kenneth Lonergan and Timothy Olyphant talk about Hold On to Me Darling:
Highlights from the Roundabout Theatre Company’s revival of She Loves Me: