(New York Jewish Week) – In “Pictures from Home,” a new Broadway play, a photographer takes on a nearly 10-year project to chronicle the lives of his aging parents. As the son snaps pictures and interrogates his parents in their Southern California home, the three offer very different versions of their shared past and spar about the very meaning of “truth.”
“Loads of emotions came up during the show,” said Broadway veteran Danny Burstein, who plays the son, Larry. “Larry’s desire and passion to know more and to not just look at others critically but himself critically as well is inspiring to me. It’s a beautiful story.”
Written by Sharr White and directed by Bartlett Sherr, the play is based on the 1992 photo-memoir by Larry Sultan, an acclaimed photographer who died in 2009. Nathan Lane plays the father, Irving, a Brooklyn-born Jew who struggled as a salesman but eventually became a vice president at Schick, the razor company. Acclaimed British actress Zoë Wanamaker plays the mom, a real estate agent who sometimes feels underappreciated as a breadwinner following Irving’s early (or was it forced?) retirement. Irving, raised in part in a Jewish orphanage, bitterly recalls the antisemitism he faced – and swallowed – on his way up the shaky ladder of success.
And father and son clash not only over the project, but Larry’s career. Irv can’t quite understand how his son actually makes a living as a photographer and asks: “Where’s the rigor?”
Throughout the play, real recordings, home videos and the blown-up photos of his parents that appeared in Sultan’s photo-memoir are projected on the set behind the actors.
Burstein, 58, was nominated for a Tony Award for his portrayal of Tevye in the most recent Broadway production of “Fiddler on the Roof.” A week after the opening of “Pictures,” he spoke to the New York Jewish Week about the Jewishness of the show and how it has impacted him so far.
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
New York Jewish Week: The concept of the show is a bit challenging to describe — it’s a play based on a memoir based on a series of photographs. How would you describe what the play is about?
Danny Burstein: It’s based on the beautiful book by the same title, which has incredible pictures in it but also contains the memoir of his time with his parents. It’s all a bit convoluted, but it comes together in a beautiful way. A play has not been told in this particular way before and it is quite unique. So it’s different, and you have to let people know that it is different from anything they’ve ever seen before, as far as the storytelling goes. It is a story of family and it’s also the story of the creation of art — sometimes it’s quiet, sometimes it’s passionate and volatile. Sometimes it’s extremely funny. It’s all those things when you’re making a piece of art.
You “feel all the feels” in other words. That’s the beautiful thing about the play. Larry winds up discovering things about himself and about his history and his parents.
Were you familiar with Larry’s work before the show or did playing him bring you closer to who he was?
I was not familiar with his work at all before the play, but at the same time now I feel very, very connected to the work and to who he was. One of the things that I’m very grateful for is that Larry’s [widow], Kelly, provided us with some of the actual tapes and recordings of conversations with his parents, so I got to listen to them actually talking. It was all of a sudden a very different kind of animal.
It’s dramatized for our show and there was sometimes volatility, but mostly it was a lot of the two of them just sitting down and loving one another and chatting and reminiscing and hearing their origin stories, like how the family got to California from Brooklyn. It’s really a beautiful story and there’s a lot of love in the family. I also love Larry’s artistic pursuits and his artistic sensibility in finding several different meanings in one picture, maybe hundreds of meanings. He believed each person subjectively finds their own meaning in a piece of art and I love that about him.
How do you think the family’s Jewishness impacted the way they interacted with the world and with each other?
It [their Jewishness] absolutely affects the way they exist in the world. I always think of [Larry’s] artistic journey as being very Talmudic — it seems to me that he’s constantly asking questions and trying to get to the heart of the matter. That’s fundamentally Jewish. That practice of always questioning, and bringing that questioning not just to religion but to everyday life and to art is also fundamentally Jewish. I don’t want to make it sound like only Jews are exceptional intellectually, but that that level of intellectual pursuit is part of the Jewish culture.
So Larry’s Jewishness certainly informed his intellectual and artistic pursuits. How do you think your Jewish background informed the way you approached this character and characters you’ve played in the past?
I was raised in a certain way: to question things. I can see a lot of my own relationship with my own father in the relationship between Larry and Irv. I’m sure I drove my father crazy. When I told my parents I wanted to be an actor, they were not dismissive of it. They didn’t say, “you’re wasting your life,” but they weren’t exactly supportive, either. They remained very neutral and said: “If this is what you want to do, then you’re going to have to work your ass off in order to make your dream come true.” So it wasn’t so much about the pursuit of financial success, the way Irv says, but it was about them worrying whether I could actually make a living at it and survive.
I guess it’s the same kind of fear that any parent would have. My younger son is a musician and my older son is a first [assistant director] on films. Those are not exactly the kinds of things you’re going to go into to make a lot of money. They’re pursuits of passion. I guess I felt the same way, I was worried for them. But knowing my own journey and knowing my father’s journey, who wanted to be a writer — he studied with Philip Roth at the University of Iowa — and then decided to leave all that to to pursue a career in ancient Greek philosophy. So I guess he understood, too, the way I did. I guess it all comes full circle. So, I did not run up against the kind of wall that Larry ran up against, where basically Irv would call him a loser, as he does in the show, because he was not more of a financial success.
Pictures from Home is currently playing at Studio 54 (254 W. 54th St.) through April 30, 2023. Tickets and informationh here.
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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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