On the Red Carpet: There Are No Small Roles in Uncle Vanya | Playbill

Opening Night On the Red Carpet: There Are No Small Roles in Uncle Vanya

The Broadway revival starring Steve Carell and William Jackson Harper opened April 24. Laurence Fishburne and Edie Falco were among those in attendance.

Steve Carell and William Jackson Harper Tricia Baron

Steve Carell is a film and TV star, but in Uncle Vanya, he is making his Broadway and dramatic stage debut. And on opening night of the Broadway revival of Chekhov's play, Carell couldn't help but marvel at the theatrical preview process. "I love how that's the process in a play, like this arduous, horrible thing," he said on the red carpet, chuckling wryly. "It's a marathon we just did." Uncle Vanya opened April 24 at Lincoln Center Theater. Read the reviews here.

For The Office star, he wanted to come into a play where he wasn't going to be the headliner. Instead, Carell "wanted to be a part of the ensemble," he said. "I wanted to fulfill my duties in that role and kind of do no more or less than that. Because this play is a true ensemble, every character is, I think, as important as any other character. So I just wanted to to try to make everybody else as good as they could be, and support."

Indeed, though Carell plays the title role, he's sharing the stage with an impressive array of stage and screen veterans. One is Tony winner Jayne Houdyshell, who plays Vanya's mother. For the Broadway veteran, Houdyshell admits it's a small role, but she's making the most of her stage time. "One of the challenges is it is a very small part," she said. "And so you have to figure out ways to establish yourself, who you are, pretty much right away so the audience, when they see you again, they don't go, 'Who was that? Where did she come from?' But I think playing a small part is exactly the same as playing a large part—you work very hard to find the absolute truth of every moment that you're playing, and if there's some comedy to be mined, do it. And pay attention to the beautiful people that you're working with."

Click here to purchase the opening night Playbill for Uncle Vanya

The other members of the cast include Tony winner Anika Noni Rose, Tony-nominated actors Alfred Molina and Alison Pill, longtime stage veteran Mia Katigbak, and stage/screen star William Jackson Harper. Below, Playbill had a little fun with the cast of the show by playing a game of "F**k, Marry, Kill" but with Chekhov, Ibsen, and Strindberg. See which naturalistic playwright the Uncle Vanya cast loved most—the answer may surprise you.

Though Uncle Vanya is now a canonical work of drama, this version is a new translation written by playwright/actor Heidi Schreck (who is fluent in Russian after having lived there). The Tony-nominated writer said that when she got the offer to work on the play, she wanted to take it out of its 19th century Russian setting and place it in the modern day. It's still set on a country farm, but the characters speak in American English and the money is valued in dollars. 

"I wanted to create with [director Lila Neugebauer] and the rest of this incredible cast, a Vanya that felt like it was of this moment in time....that felt like immediate and relevant to what we're all going through right now, and what we've all just been through," she explained. "It's a rough time. And I feel like this play speaks to that in the same way it speaks to, like, being mortal and having to die and only getting to do this thing called life one time, and not getting any second chances."

READ: Heidi Schreck Translates Uncle Vanya for a Modern Audience

In the show, it is the titular character Vanya who runs the family farm with his niece Sonya (played by Pill). When Sonya's father, a well-to-do city professor, visits their country house, Vanya realizes how much of his life he's wasted. He becomes suicidal, and it's up to Sonya to convince him to keep living. 

As Sonya, who delivers one of the most-quoted monologues in the show, Pill wanted her character to be a ray of hope. "I think it's easy to paint people who are optimistic as naïve, simple," she explained. "I was talking to Steve early on about Dostoyevsky's The Idiotthat people who are kind and optimistic shouldn't necessarily mean (even in this sort of ironic, sarcastic world) that those people are dumb. They are making an active choice to look around the world and see something possible and beautiful. And so I think discovering the strength of that instead of saying, she's a feather, she can be pushed over. It's like, no, I think she's an incredibly strong person."

Alison Pill Marc J. Franklin

Even though Uncle Vanya is about regret and is about making the most out of life, it is also a comedy. For William Jackson Harper, who's known for NBC's The Good Place, the play has been a "dream" project. "Everyone's really sweet," Harper enthused about the cast. "Everyone's really smart and funny and interesting and rigorous. It's just been kind of a dream scenario for me to get to work on a play that I find really challenging and daunting, with a bunch of people that are really smart, and funny and interesting."

And since it was opening night, that meant the reviews were coming out. But Schreck wasn't too worried about it. Though the play is technically a revival, Schreck admitted that while working on it, she thought a lot about aging (her aging, her parents aging)."My parents are in town," she said. "My dad got to see the play, which means a lot to me. I thought about my dad a lot while we were working on this play and translating the play. And he turned to me at the end and said, 'I liked that. That was good.' So I feel like I've succeeded." 

See photos from opening night below, with guests that included Laurence Fishburne, Edie Falco, and Bryan Cranston.

Photos: Lincoln Center Theater's Uncle Vanya Opening Night

The cast of Uncle Vanya also includes Jonathan Hadary and Spencer Donovan Jones. The company is completed by understudies Marceline Hugot, Stephen Conrad Moore, Robert Stanton, Michael Bryan French, and Brenda Meaney.

The creative team also includes set designer Mimi Lien, costume designer Kaye Boyce, lighting designers Lap Chi Chu and Elizabeth Harper, and sound designers Mikhail Fiksel and Beth Lake. Kate Wilson serves as the vocal coach. The production team includes general manager Jessica Niebanck, production manager Paul Smithyman, and stage manager Charles M. Turner III. Casting is by Daniel Swee.

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