Interview: Heidi Schreck and Lila Neugebauer are Building a New Uncle Vanya for Broadway

Steve Carell, Anika Noni Rose, Alfred Molina, and more star in the latest version of the Chekhov drama, at Lincoln Center Theater.

The new Lincoln Center Theater production of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya is exciting for a lot of reasons. First and foremost, the cast is a mix of Hollywood and Broadway royalty, led by the likes of Steve Carell, Alfred Molina, Anika Noni Rose, Alison Pill, and William Jackson Harper (not to mention Jonathan Hadary, Jayne Houdyshell, and Mia Katigbak). No less important are the two women shepherding this revival to the stage of the Vivian Beaumont Theater: playwright Heidi Schreck, who penned this new version of the ennui-filled tragicomedy, and director Lila Neugebauer, who is working hard to make her staging feel immediate.

Both Neugebauer and Schreck are longtime Uncle Vanya obsessives. Schreck has high regard for the recent iterations by Annie Baker and Richard Nelson, and enjoyed seeing the intimate, loft-set production from earlier this season. Neugebauer believes that there could be dozens of productions of the classic running at the exact same time and each would offer different feelings and emotions. But right now, their’s is obviously front and center, and they can’t believe how lucky they are to have gotten the cast of their dreams to do the play of their dreams.

LCTVANYAFIRSTREHEARSAL 189 colloborators Heidi Schreck and Lila Neugebauer. Credit to Marc J. Franklin
Heidi Schreck and Lila Neugebauer
(© Marc J. Franklin)

This conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.

How’s it going so far?
Heidi Schreck: It’s wonderful! I don’t know how else to say it, but I could not be more excited. They’re all great, as you might imagine. I feel like I’ve learned so much about the play. It’s been thrilling. I don’t know how to say it in a less boring way, but it’s just terrific.

Lila Neugebauer: It’s just an unqualified pleasure. Like, this is a remarkable group of human beings who are so engaged and deeply enthusiastic in the most open-hearted, curious, imaginative ways. They’re a delight as a group.

They all seem to like each other.
Lila: You’re onto it.

Heidi: There’s no blazing ego in the room.

Lila: No.

Heidi: It’s a very collaborative, sweet, dare I say, room.

Lila: Dare!

Heidi: Yeah, sweet is the word that comes to mind.

I’m glad to see that you’re using the full vastness of the space, which isn’t always the case at the Beaumont.
Heidi: That’s all [scenic designer] Mimi [Lien] and Lila. That was one of their first things.

Lila: The Beaumont is an idiosyncratic, singular space. There’s no other room like it in New York City. I think one of the miracles of the Beaumont is that you can have an experience that is, at once, intensely intimate at that downstage thrust edge, and also, have a scale that allows the experience of the epic. This is a play which wants both, I think. We wanted very much to be in intimate communion with the characters in this play, and at the same time, experience human life as a minusculey small, deep but devastatingly small force in the scale of the cosmos in the face of time. You can live inside of that complexity in the Beaumont in a particularly acute way.

Heidi: You say everything more clearly than I do. The play is both tiny and pedestrian and the smallest and pettiest things that you want between people, and, at the same time, completely existential and about mortality. The number of times in this play that they say, “200 years from now, what’s this gonna look like?” I do think this space is uniquely, magically designed to think about that.

There are always so many Uncle Vanyas — I have fond memories of the Annie Baker version at Soho Rep and Richard Nelson’s production with Jay O. Sanders. I missed the one from last year with David Cromer, in the loft.
: I saw it. I loved it.

Why is this one of those plays that always gets done?
: Each production is uniquely its own thing. Early on, Lila said “this play belongs to all of us.”

Lila: I think there could be 20 productions of Uncle Vanya going on simultaneously, and I think it would be fabulous.

How did you get all these superstar actors to sign onto it?
Lila: It’s totally weird, right? These people actually wanted to do it. They didn’t take a lot of convincing, wildly enough.

Heidi: Fred [Molina] was just like, “Oh yeah, sure.”

Lila: We were like, “Did he just say yes?”

Heidi: We were all ready to give him a pitch.

Lila: They’re a remarkable group, and I think they all felt the play was talking to them. This is one of those rare miracles where we got everybody we wanted.

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Steve Carell, William Jackson Harper, Mia Katigbak, Anika Noni Rose, Heidi Schreck, Lila Neugebauer, Alison Pill, Jonathan Hadary, Jayne Houdyshell, Spencer Donovan Jones, and Alfred Molina
(© David Gordon)


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Uncle Vanya

Final performance: June 16, 2024