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Pictures From Home

Nathan Lane on Bringing Humor and Heart to Broadway in Pictures From Home

When photographer Larry Sultan turned his camera on his aging parents and embarked on a decade-long art project in 1981, the resulting book, Pictures From Home, created a sensation. Now, in the theatrical event of the season, the three Sultans will come to vivid life on Broadway in the expert hands of three-time Tony Award winner Nathan Lane, Tony winner Danny Burstein (Moulin Rouge! The Musical), and four-time Tony nominee and Olivier Award winner Zoë Wanamaker. Sharr White’s funny, heartfelt memory play Pictures From Home begins performances January 10 at Studio 54, directed by Tony winner Bartlett Sher (To Kill a Mockingbird, South Pacific).

“This play is a gem,” says Lane, explaining why he chose Pictures From Home for his highly anticipated return to Broadway after almost four years. “It’s beautifully written, hilarious, and touching.” Three fascinating and contradictory characters take the stage to present their points of view to the audience, alongside Larry Sultan’s haunting photos. Lane plays patriarch Irv, a dynamic man whose executive sales position at Schick razors disappeared when he refused to move east from California; Wanamaker plays Irv’s wife and verbal sparring partner, Jean, a thriving real estate agent; and Burstein is Larry, whose compulsion to shoot (and reshoot) pictures of his parents puzzles them all.

“All I know is that you have some stake in making us look older and more despairing than we really feel,” Irv complains in an interview published in Sultan’s book, which inspired the play. For his part, Larry muses that behind the endless rolls of unexposed film “is the wish to take photography literally. To stop time. I want my parents to live forever.”

The play’s multiple layers and themes proved irresistible to Lane and his director, who are collaborating for the first time. “It’s about parents and mortality,” says the star, “and it’s also about an artist searching for truth. The audience becomes another actor in the play because we talk to them directly, arguing about the photos and attempting to get them on our side.” Adds Sher, “It’s this fascinating intersection between real pictures of real people and how their lives are depicted artistically. Larry was constantly showing up, taking pictures over a period of 10 years, and his parents didn’t understand what he was doing. Truths come out, and Larry learns some truths about himself as well. That’s what makes the piece so extraordinary.”

Proud and combative, Irv Sultan is a worthy addition to Lane’s vast theatrical résumé, which includes a Tony-winning performance as Roy Cohn in Angels in America, Pseudolus in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, and Max Bialystock in The Producers. “I cannot imagine doing this play without Nathan,” says Sher, whose most recent Broadway credit was the smash hit adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird. “Sharr White captures a kind of classic tragic American hero character, and what Nathan does so well is convey humor and heartbreak at the same time. I really don’t know of anyone as skilled as he is — he’s just masterful, and he brings Irv to life so vividly.”

In conversation, Lane slips easily between joking about the Sultans’ home decor (“They were very fond of the color avocado”) and assessing the source of Irv’s anger. “He hasn’t gotten over being discarded abruptly by Schick after 30 years, and he’s bored with his life,” the actor explains. “He’s also astute about Larry’s photography and begins to feel like he’s being investigated. There’s a great deal of humor in the play, but by the end it’s quietly devastating, because it’s about the thing we all have to face, which is that we’re not going to be here forever. You can’t stop time.”

Sher emphasizes that Pictures From Home “is a play that showcases what great theater can do: It puts you in a space you couldn’t experience any other way. You get to observe this family over the course of a decade as they deal with who they are and how the parents are represented by their son. It’s so funny and moving and complicated, and these actors are incredibly good.”

Lane can’t wait to share the stage with his costars, none of whom have previously worked together. “I’ve known Danny forever, I love him dearly, and he is wonderful in this,” Lane says. “Zoë Wanamaker is, of course, one of the greats from the U.K., who has been nominated for a Tony every time she’s been on Broadway. They can do anything — comedy, drama, musicals — so you feel very safe in their company.”

After a year that brought him an Emmy Award for guest-starring in Only Murders in the Building, plus a scene-stealing turn as the Southern-born social kingmaker in The Gilded Age, Lane is eager to get back to his first love, stage acting. Returning to Broadway in a play about family is a bonus. “Because of the pandemic, we were all forced to stop and look at our lives and relationships in a way we wouldn’t have otherwise,” observes the actor, who has been married to producer/writer Devlin Elliott since 2015. “I feel especially good about this piece because I’ve seen the effect it has on an audience. It sneaks up on you, this play. Just when you think you’ve figured it out, it surprises you.”

Theater fans can rejoice that the three world-class artists and Sher are part of Broadway’s reemergence with a new American play. As Sher puts it, “To be in the same room with three of our best actors, enjoying a beautiful story and a great piece of writing like this, is very special.”

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