By EDWARD RUBIN
Pictures from Home currently running thru April 30 is the most delightful and thought-provoking play currently gracing the Broadway stages at this very moment.
Featuring the tried-and-true Danny Burstein, Nathan Lane, and Zoë Wanamaker – three stellar actors at their very best – the play is wowing audiences with loads of laughter, wisps of tears, and nostalgia to boot, for one hour and forty-five intermission-less minutes. As to be expected, with such accomplished illuminati, be prepared to add a 7-minute tsunami of uproariously well-deserved curtain bows.
Directed by Bartlett Sherr and adapted to the stage by Sharr White from photographer Larry Sultan’s 1992 posthumously published book “Pictures From Home,” featuring Sultan family photos from the 1950s and 1960s, it is essentially a pictorial memoir that covers the life of Sultan (1946-2009), as well as that of his father Irving, here channeled by Lane, and his mother Jean, rivetingly portrayed by Wanamaker.
Photographer Larry Sultan began taking photos of his parents beginning in the early 1980s and he spent a decade interviewing and writing about his relationship with them.
Playwright Sharr first began working on this play in 2014 after seeing “Here And Home,” a Sultan retrospective at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, while on a shoot.
After reading the exhibition’s texts on the wall and learning that the San Francisco-based Sultan was leaving his wife and three kids several times a month for 10 years to photograph and interview his parents in San Fernando Valley, California as they went about the daily business of living, Sharr realized that he had the form of a play. The fact that father and son argue about images and ownership of images, an intellectual conceit, further fueled Sharr’s imagination.
Not missing a beat, on his way home to New York City in 2014, Sherr took out his laptop and wrote the first page of Pictures From Home. Four years later in 2018 he returned to finish writing the play.
To bring the play alive – no small feat – playwright Sharr White has the cast continuously talking among themselves, as well as talking directly to the audience. In addition, cleverly placed contemporary photos and movie stills from Sultan’s childhood, which serve to foster a self-reflecting mood for us audience, are projected on a screen at the rear of the stage.
The fun and enjoyment of the play is heightened, as we watch each character trying to outdo each other as they argue, joke, and watch the projected images of themselves. During the course of the play, the characters talk about Reagan-era politics, truth and fiction in documentary, antisemitism and the American myth of success, aging, and gender roles. We learn that Irv, long-retired, was once a successful Schick Razor Company salesman, and his wife Jean, still working, is a highly-paid real estate agent.
In a number of scenes, almost a mantra, Irv continually tells his son that “It’s your picture but it’s my image, so who’s truth is it?” In one sadly compelling scene, a ploy to prove that everything is a pose, Sultan films Irv, who continuously reminds everybody what a great salesman he was, to recreate his old, and never failing, sales pitch to his aspiring Schick razor force.
Sultan noted in his book that he wanted his images in “Pictures From Home” to “become part of a larger narrative…to slam up against other images (an afterimage). I want to measure how a life was lived against how a life was dreamed.”
In another scene, sobbing Sultan confesses to his parents that he’s photographing them “because I want you to live forever.” With this play he gets his wish. If only he lived to see this.
Cast: Nathan Lane (Irving Sultan), Danny Burstein (Larry Sultan, Irving’s son), Zoë Wanamaker (Jean Sultan, Larry’s mother)
Technical: Scenery Design: Michael Yeargan, Costumes Design: Jennifer Moeller, Lighting Design: Jennifer Tipton, Sound Design: Scott Lehrer, Peter John Still, Production Design: 59 Productions, Wig, Hair, Makeup Design: Tommy Kurzman, Dialect Coach: Kate Wilson, Production Props Supervisor: Kathy Fabian/Propstar LLC, Technical Supervision: Hudson Theatrical Associates, Production Stage Manager: Jill Cordell
Pictures from Home (1 hour and 45 minutes without an intermission), a staged adaption by Sharr White of Larry Sultan’s 1992 visual memoir. Directed by Bartlett Sher, the play officially opened on February 9, 2023 and is currently running through Sunday, April 30, 2023 at Studio 54 on Broadway. For online tickets go to roundabouttheatre.org or call Telecharge at 212-239-6300.
Edward Rubin is a member of American Theatre Critics Association, NYC’s Drama Desk, and the Outer Critics Circle, International Association of Theatre Critics, International Association of Art Critics, PEN American Center, and the Foreign Press Association.