Enjoyable acting and sensitive direction characterize “Pictures From Home,” the star-studded new Broadway production of Sharr White’s meh family drama based on Larry Sultan’s photo memoir.
Veteran actors Nathan Lane, Danny Burstein And Zoe Wanamaker do their best to breathe some life into this inert story about a professional photographer trying to define his own personal identity by interviewing his father, a retired traveling salesman. But, dramatically speaking, it’s a bore.
Irving Sultan, the road company version of Willy Loman played with heart here by Lane, has retired to Florida and would like nothing better than to forget those endless years at shilling Schick razor blades – as any sane person would. But his son, Larry, a daredevil played with admirable if exhausting compassion by Burstein, won’t let the poor guy enjoy his golden years in the sun.
In a clichéd search for his own identity, Larry is determined to “search” his father’s uneventful life for generational clues. Sticking his camera in Irving’s face at every inopportune moment, he harasses his old self for signs of exceptionalism clearly absent from his own existentially barren life. Although he’s desperate to discover “something important” about Irving’s modest personality, he doesn’t ask him for anything that might provide provocative material for his so-called “project” – or direction for his life without rudder.
His frustration is shared by the public who understands too quickly that there is no “there”. Lane and Burstein are consummate pros, and there are considerable sparks of family communication between the father and son they play with such warmth and understanding.
But if you really want to know what’s going on, just watch Wanamaker as Larry’s mother. There is a lot of love in the looks she gives her husband and son, but also a sense of exhaustion. She understands, if they don’t, that there are serious limits to their sadly belated attempts to connect on any deep emotional level.
Certainly father and son are closer at the end of the play than they were when the lines of communication were non-existent. Larry seems to have developed a certain respect for his ordinary father’s ordinary life, and Irving seems to have come to view his son’s intrusive efforts to interrogate his old man as a sign of clumsy love.
But the key word here is “clumsy”. Despite director Sher’s great efforts, there is no arc in their painful search for connection. Michael Yeargan’s set says the same, with its ugly green ramp that leads nowhere because there’s nothing to reach, either visually or dramatically. No solid scenes of mutual understanding. No moments of emotional elevation. Dull projections don’t help either.
Even the language isn’t particularly uplifting. (Someone in this family surely has poetry at heart!) But nothing sings in key exchanges between father and son, a problem exacerbated by occasional direct-to-audience speeches that make us squirm.
Admittedly, not much happens to arouse this kind of poetic passion. There’s no dramatic conflict to get those juices flowing, no moments of heightened feelings or jolts of intellectual insight. Above all, there is no character development of any consequence. If you want to enjoy the terrifying – and exhilarating – drama of ordinary people discovering something extraordinary about themselves, better stick with Arthur Miller.