Nice acting and sensitive direction characterize “Pictures From Home,” the starry new Broadway production of Sharr White’s meh family drama based on the photo-memoir by Larry Sultan.

Veteran actors Nathan Lane, Danny Burstein and Zoe Wanamaker do their professional damndest to breathe some life into this inert story about a professional photographer trying to define his own personal identity by interviewing his dad, 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 interminable years shilling Schick razor blades — as would anyone in his right mind. But his son, Larry, a pain in the neck 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 hellbent on “researching” his father’s uneventful life for generational clues. Sticking his camera into Irving’s face at every inopportune moment, he pesters his old man for signs of exceptionalism clearly missing from his own existentially barren life. Although desperate to uncover “something significant” from Irving’s modest persona, he fails to ask him anything that might yield some provocative material for his so-called “project” — or for some direction for his rudderless life.

His frustration is shared by the audience, who all too quickly catch on to the fact that there’s no “there” there. Lane and Burstein are consummate pros, and there are considerable sparks of familial 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 much love in the looks she gives both husband and son, but also a sense of exhaustion. She understands, if they don’t, that there are severe limitations on their sadly belated attempts to connect on any deep emotional level.

To be sure, the father and son are closer at the end of the play than they were when the lines of communication were nonexistent. Larry seems to have developed some respect for his ordinary father’s ordinary life, and Irving seems to have come to regard his son’s intrusive efforts to interrogate his old man as a clumsy sign of love.

But the key word here is “clumsy.” Despite director Sher’s extensive efforts, there’s no arc to their aching search for connection. Michael Yeargan’s set says as much, with its ugly green ramp leading to nowhere because there’s nothing to reach for, either visually or dramatically. No solid scenes of mutual understanding. No moments of emotional elevation. The dull projections don’t help, either.

Not even the language is particularly uplifting. (Surely someone in this family has some poetry in his soul!) But nothing sings in the key exchanges between father and son, a problem exacerbated by occasional speeches of direct address to the audience that make us squirm.

To be sure, there’s not much going on to rouse that kind of poetic passion. There’s no dramatic conflict to get those juices flowing, no moments of heightened feelings or jolts of intellectual insight. Most of all, there’s no character development of any consequence. If you want to appreciate the terrifying — and exhilarating — drama of ordinary folks discovering something extraordinary about themselves, better stick to Arthur Miller.  

‘Pictures From Home’ Review: Nathan Lane Leads Well-Acted but Dull Broadway Play

Studio 54; 740 seats; $199 top. Opened February 9, 2023. Reviewed Feb. 8. Running time: ONE HOUR, 45 MIN.

  • Production: A production by Jeffrey Richards, Hunter Arnold, Rebecca Gold, Louise L. Gund, Jayne Baron  Sherman, et al, of a play in one act by Sharr White, based on the photo memoir “Pictures from Home” by Larry Sultan.
  • Crew: Directed by Bartlett Sher. Set, Michael Yeargan; costumes, Jennifer Moeller; lighting, Jennifer Tipton; sound, Scott Lehrer & Peter John Still; projections, 59 Projections; production stage manager, Jill Cordle.
  • Cast: Nathan Lane, Danny Burstein, Zoe Wanamaker.