FST's Pictures From Home Is a Family Portrait Mixing Laughter and Tears

Based on Larry Sultan's photo memoir, the play will elicit memories and emotions from our own family lives.

By Kay Kipling December 18, 2023

Jean Tafler, Gil Brady and Kraig Swartz in FST's Pictures From Home.

Image: John Jones

Parents. Can’t live with ’em, can’t (literally) live without ’em. In some cases, as with Sharr White’s play Pictures From Home, now onstage at Florida Studio Theatre’s Keating Theatre, you can also spend years exploring and trying to understand them.

The three-character comedic drama is based on photographer Larry Sultan’s photo memoir of the same name, dating from 1992. By then, Sultan had already spent a decade examining the lives of his parents, retired salesman Irving and real estate agent Jean, and the journey they made from Brooklyn, New York, to Los Angeles post-World War II, through photographs and old home movies. It’s a project that frankly frustrates Irving (Kraig Swartz), who doesn’t want to know about whatever metaphors Larry is finding in either those old film reels or his staged photos. For Irving, photography is not really a profession; as he tells Larry in one of the play’s most pointed lines, “If nobody can fire you from what you’re doing, it's not a job.”

Mother Jean (Jean Tafler) is a bit more sympathetic to Larry’s aims, but she often winds up playing the peacemaker role between father and son. As Larry, Gil Brady fervently tries to explain to Irving what he’s doing and why (sometimes repetitively so), but he may not even fully realize it himself until near the end of the play, when his parents, inevitably, begin to face old age and he begins to face losing them.

Brady and Swartz as father and son.

Image: John Jones

Probably not every adult son is quite so attached to his parents, despite having a young family of his own. But Larry is stricken by the idea that his parents won’t live forever, even as they begin planning their retirement in Palm Desert. While he and Irving see things very differently, Larry still needs his father, who, in another acerbic exchange, reminds his son that it was not the image of success that paid for Larry and his brothers’ privileged lives, but real success, due to his demanding job in sales—which required long absences from home.

Tafler as mother Jean with Brady as Larry.

Image: John Jones

Lots of audience members are bound to recognize some aspect of their own family lives in this piece, wisely directed by Kate Alexander to hit home with the punch lines while keeping us in tune with the emotions behind them. White’s concept of Sultan’s memoir may be a little schticky at times, but the cast plays their characters as the real people they were, throughout the arguments and some found understanding. And the actual Sultans themselves are glimpsed in projections of Larry’s photos, to help tie us to those real people as well.

I’m not sure if White’s play does justice to Sultan’s memoir; I haven’t seen it or the other work of his that received museum exhibitions. But you’re likely to get caught up in the questions about family, image and mortality that frame the Sultan story.

Pictures From Home continues through Feb. 18. For tickets, call (941) 366-9000 or visit

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