THE TRAVELER

Premiered at the Mark Taper Forum (Gordon Davidson, Artistic Director), LA, March 1987. The cast included John Glover, Gretchen Corbett, Glenn Berenbeim and John Cameron Mitchell, directed by Steve Kent. Performed at Haymarket Theatre, Leicester, England, and the Almeida in London, with David Threlfall and Morag Hood, directed by Keith Boak. Based on the experience of Jean-Claude van Itallie as a support person for Joseph Chaikin when he suffered a stroke and resulting aphasia.

FROM REVIEWS OF THE TRAVELER

"This world premiere of Jean-Claude van Itallie’s play adds importantly to the Taper’s impressive list of theatrical contributions — some triumphs more than others, but virtually all vital and courageous efforts." Polly Warfield, Drama-Logue.

"It’s much more than an interesting stylistic exercise, however; it’s a deeply felt work of art. The stroke victim in the play — van Itallie refers to him in the program only as "The Traveler" -— is modeled after the playwright’s close friend Joseph Chaikin, founder of the Open Theatre. Van Itallie helped him through his recovery; he observed the process. Now he has dramatized it, brilliantly." Tom Jacobs, LA Daily News.

"Playwright Jean-Claude van Itallie based The Traveler on the experience of his close associate Joe Chaikin, and it’s a deeply compassionate exploration not only of the complexity of language and of the human brain, but almost of the soul itself."  Pat Ashworth, (England…)

"Things look up in Leicester with a rivetting production of The Traveller …In a straightforward sense this is a play about struggle and achievement. But on a much more important level, it is an account of growth. Physical fitness and mental and spiritual health emerge together. Life is a delicate organization of forces, and if it’s to be worth anything at all, it has to grow from emotional nakedness. We’re on a journey into the interior, the jagged fretted landscape of the mind and back again. Threlfall’s performance is simply unforgettable: both athletically tough and as sensitive as a nerve end." John Peter, London Sunday Times, October 4, 1987.

EXCERPTS

THE TRAVELER: Shasolashashh because shamer.

   (They've reached the hospital solarium. The Traveler sits.)

Downshashit.

AARON (sitting next to him, an arm around his shoulder): Feeling down like shit?

THE TRAVELER (getting out exactly what he means): Visi d'arte.

AARON (amazed he has said this): Visi d'arte?. Visi d'arteTosca? I live for art?

(The Traveler extracts an audio tape from the pocket of his bathrobe, hands it to Aaron.)

THE TRAVELER (trying to say it again): Griming... guy...

(Aaron pulls the Traveler's tape machine out from his bag, and puts the tape on. It's Leontyne Price singing the Visi d'Arte aria from Tosca. They listen a moment, sitting close together. The Traveler is very moved by the aria. He starts quietly to cry, speaking at the same time to Aaron about all the terrible and sad things that have happened to him in his life, and how unfair it is. These are feelings the Traveler must let out. Most of his words are unintelligible. He sobs quietly as he speaks, while Aaron encourages him, holds him gently, tears in his eyes too.)

THE TRAVELER: Five, to ten. Asha. To asha. Because shaasha. Ahh. Ahhh. Shashah. Shahshah. Ashashah. Shaa Mashash. To left. Shahah shah...

AARON (murmuring, not interrupting the Traveler): I know, I know...

THE TRAVELER: Tasham shamash shash shash to right to left. Shash. Again. Again.

AARON (as the Traveler speaks): I know... you've been so brave... you came so close to dying... again and again...

THE TRAVELER: Ashashmash. Ten thousand years. Shamash.

Shamash. Shamash... Shamash. Again. Because again. Again! Shamash. Ahhh, ahhh. Shaaamash maaaaaaaaash...

(Aaron rocks him. The Traveler quiets down a little. The aria is over. Lightning is visible out the window.)

AARON (to distract the Traveler): Look. It's a summer storm. Storm.

(Aaron directs the Traveler's attention to the window. The Traveler walks downstage to look, interested. Aaron remains seated.)

THE TRAVELER (to himself): Storm. It's word: "storm."

Wow. Saying "storm," feeling "storm." It's true: word — it's feeling. Feeling — it's "intense." It's changing — Like storm to wind. Wow --"wind!" It's word. Every minute changing — whew!

It's "storm." It's "wind."

(Aaron comes downstage to the Traveler. The Traveler can only speak softly.)

THE TRAVELER: Crash, fash, crash pash pash mash!

Pash! Crash! Plash flashpash crash!

Mashafalash, prash,

Pash pash cash prash pash pashpash, frash, Fash shash.

AARON: Cadences — you're speaking in cadences! Go on.

THE TRAVELER: Pash pashposhfush cash tash-mashpushpash pashash

AARON: A song — ?

THE TRAVELER: Mash-mashash tash hash-blahash flashlash --

Frash pash mash whaash hash!

    (The Traveler demonstrates a long beard.)

AARON (He's got it.): Lear! Your opera — Lear on the heath!

THE TRAVELER: Flash mash --

AARON (expressing the Traveler's defiance more energetically than he can himself): Rage, blow --

THE TRAVELER: Crash flash, mash hash kash plash--

AARON: (speaking at a volume the Traveler can't): "Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks!"

THE TRAVELER: Pash! Mash!

AARON: "Rage! Blow!"

THE TRAVELER: "...Pash flappermash mash pashimashmo..."

AARON: "...You cataracts and hurricanoes..."

THE TRAVELER: Spash, pee too vash drashed ash shlaffash --

AARON (not remembering the words perfectly): Spash pee too vash drashed ash shlaffash --"Spout til you've drenched our steeples..."

THE TRAVELER: "...frashed ash cash!

AARON (laughing): "...drowned our cocks!"

THE TRAVELER (turning to Aaron): Shash, fow!

AARON (swinging Traveler's arm in the air): Rage, blow!

   (They are both high on the moment. Lights out.)

.............................................................................................................

Achievement Award from the United Stroke Foundation, 1987.

Published in America Hurrah and Other Plays, Grove/Atlantic, 2001.