“One of our most original playwrights.” Richard Gere
AMERICA HURRAH, Three Views of the USA: INTERVIEW, a fugue for eight actors, TV, and MOTEL, a masque for three dolls. Premiere 1966, Pocket Theater, NYC; 1967 Royal Court Theater, London.
His acclaimed anti-Viet Nam war play, AMERICA HURRAH, Three Views of the USA (INTERVIEW, a fugue for eight actors, TV, and MOTEL, a masque for three dolls), was the watershed dramatic event of the sixties..
"Brilliant!" Harold Pinter
“Motel is possibly the best one-act play I have ever seen.” Norman Mailer
“...a compelling image of American violence... an extension of our powers of envisaging ourselves." Newsweek.
“…engaging and evocative…The great and secret pleasure of experiencing the past through the eyes of a contemporary author, played out onstage with gifted actors under the guidance of a fine director, is how much it tells us about our world today.” -- Hoyt Hilsman, BACKSTAGE WEST
"Jean-Claude van Itallie’s play...shows off the little jewel of a theater to its fullest advantage.”– Leigh Kennicott, PASADENA WEEKLY
"America Hurrah is a three-playlet wedding between pop art and the theatre of cruelty. It is an off-Broadway trip through an air-conditioned blightmare towards an icy emptiness at the core of American life, the land of the Deepfreeze and the home of the rave, of the neon smile and the plastic heart. …Playwright Jean- Claude van Itallie conveys an especially timely sensation, that of a world of fragmented experience so speeded up past human endurance that a man must either die laughing or go mad. America Hurrah is as lively as a sand tick. It is anguishingly funny, yet oddly poignant, and more than passing wise in the ways of today’s world." Time Magazine.
"He speaks, if these plays are typical of him, more directly to my own particular obsessions than any other contemporary American playwright… the American theatre takes three giant steps toward maturity… He had discovered the truest poetic function of the theatre… to invent metaphors which can poignantly suggest a nation’s nightmares and afflictions… I am exhilarated by these plays and what they augur for the future of the American theatre." Robert Brustein in Plays and Players.
"At a time when many American playwrights seem to be talking mostly to themselves, a new young dramatist named Jean- Claude van Itallie is talking out loud in vivid, violent symbols about the kind of life we lead here in this country — and people are listening. …" Julius Novick, New York Times.
"Jean-Claude van Itallie has something to say…and has an intelligent and funny way of saying it." Edwin Newman
“Brilliant!” Harold Pinter. “Motel is possibly the best one-act play I have ever seen!” Norman Mailer “...a compelling image of American violence...but on a much deeper level, an extension of our powers of envisaging ourselves." Newsweek. [full length, at least 8 actors – 4 men, 4 women; DPS; America Hurrah and Other Plays, Grove Press ]
THE SERPENT, A Ceremony written in collaboration with The Open Theater, director Joseph Chaikin
Premiere 1968, Teatro Del Arte, Rome, toured Europe, NYC, Cambridge, Mass. One the most successful pieces of ensemble theater by any theater group.
“The audience is drawn to participate with the actors in a kind of eucharist." Walter Kerr, New York Times.
“Profoundly disruptive emotionally." Village Voice
[full length; ensemble of 8 or more; DPS; America Hurrah and Other Plays, Grove Press] Click here to learn more.
Van Itallie’s Chekhov translations
THE SEA GULL Premiere 1973, McCarter Theater, Princeton, NJ; dir: Lou Criss,UNCLE VANYA Premiere 1983, LaMama ETC, NYC; dir Andrei Serban,
THREE SISTERS Premiere 1979, Rokeby Estate, Rhinebeck, NY; dir: Lawrence Sacharow,
CHERRY ORCHARD Premiere 1977, New York Shakespeare Festival, Lincoln Center, NYC; dir Andrei Serban.
Prized for their clarity and subtle rhythms, possibly the most performed Chekhov versions on the American stage. “Best translations of Chekhov into English,” Vitaly Voulff, pre-eminent Moscow critic. Appeared in van Itallie’s Chekhov versions: F. Murray Abraham, Jeff Daniels, Blythe Danner, Alvin Epstein, Rosemary Harris, Judd Hirsch, Raul Julia, Gwyneth Paltrow. Meryl Streep, Christopher Walken, Sam Waterston, Dianne Weist, Joanne Woodward, Irene Worth, [Each play published by DPS;Chekhov, the Major Plays, Applause Books]
TIBETAN BOOK OF THE DEAD, or How Not To Do It Again
Premiere 1983, LaMama NYC, with imprimatur of van Itallie’s Tibetan Buddhist teacher, Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche. “Tibetan Book of the Dead is a magnificent text. Van Itallie has created a powerful dramatic version of this classic...invites us to a solemn, ecstatic celebration of life and death...after five minutes I knew I was witnessing a masterpiece." Rosette Lamont, Other Stages. The Shantigar/Pilgrim production of Tibetan Book available for touring; 2009. Mass; La MaMa, NYC.
[full length; ensemble of 4 or more; DPS, America Hurrah and Other Plays, Grove Press, Tibetan Book of the Dead for Reading Aloud, North Atlantic] Click here to learn more.
Confessions and Conversation, a one man show by van Itallie, directed by Rosemary Quinn, premiered in Ellen Stewart Theater at LaMaMa ETC in NYC, September, 2012. Kevin Hourigan at the ivories.
WAR Van Itallie’s first produced play. Premiere 1963, Barr Albee Wilder Playwrights Unit, Van Dam Theater, NYC, in 1964 Caffe Cino, NYC (Caffe Cino burned down during the run)
“...two male actors, ..competition and sexual tension...a charming lady in Edwardian dress…the personal origins of social conflict.” Bill Coco, dramaturg.
[50 minutes; 2 men, 1 woman; War and Four Other Plays, DPS; America Hurrah and Other Plays, Grove Press ] Click here to learn more.
LIGHT, VOLTAIRE, THE MATHEMATICIAN, and THE KING OF PRUSSIA. Premiere 2004, Theater at Boston Court, Pasadena; California (several LA Critics Awards). Witty wild love triangle of a king, a promiscuous scientist marquise, and Voltaire, the most famous man in Europe – a passionate incandescent voyage to enlightenment and revolution. [full length, 3 actors] *Click here to learn more.
THE TRAVELER Premiere 1987, Mark Taper Forum, LA; 1988 Haymarket Theatre, Leicester, England and Almeida Theatre, London, with David Threlfall. Inspired by van Itallie’s longtime collaborator Joseph Chaikin suffering stroke and aphasia. “Deeply compassionate exploration not only of the complexity of language and the human brain, but almost of the soul itself." Pat Ashworth.
[full length; 4 men, 4 women; America Hurrah and Other Plays, Grove Press] Click here to learn more.
STRUCK DUMB written with Joseph Chaikin.
Premiere 1991, Taper Too, Los Angeles, with Chaikin – Born in Lebanon, the aphasic hero lives in Venice, California. "These words are about wonder. When an earthquake shakes the brain, and you stumble out alive, there’s an odd exhilaration...like a baby, you begin all over again doping out the world with the intensity of a Talmudic scholar." Dan Sullivan, LA Times. [50 minutes; 1 man; Best Short Plays 1990-91]*Click here to learn more.
BAG LADY Premiere 1979, Theater for the New City, NYC, with Shami Chaikin.
Born in pre-holocaust Europe, bag lady Clara feels assailed by voices of NY passers-by. Humorous and belligerent, in a way she’s the city itself with all its terrors and hopes. "Vintage van Itallie... a poetic interpretation by a discerning playwright…" NY Times. [55 minutes; 1 woman; DPS; America Hurrah and Other Plays, Grove Press]
Click here to learn more.
ALMOST LIKE BEING and I’M REALLY HERE, the “Doris” plays
Premiere 1964, Open Theater at Van Dam Theater, NYC. Pair of hilarious surrealistic Doris Day “movies.” In one Doris farts in distress when her lover Rossano Brazzi advances on her with a knife. She says, "This isn't real. This can't be me. This isn’t happening." “Artaud would have loved these two plays.” Anais Nin [each 45 minutes; 3 men, 2 women; DPS; Almost Like Being also in America Hurrah and Other Plays, Grove Press]
ANCIENT BOYS Premiere 1991, LaMama ETC, NYC – about an artist coping with HIV/AIDS.
"Van Itallie’s hero...a manic, mercurial artist, embodies everything that’s wonderful and horrible in New York’s gay male vie de boheme, downtown style...” – Michael Feingold, Village Voice. [full length; 4 men, 1 woman]* Click here to learn more.
The Mother’s Return premiered as an Equity Showcase Friday, October 15th, 2010, in New York City, LaMama ETC, The Club.
Director: Josh Adler. Performed by Theater Research Ensemble (TreE) with Autumn Home, Helen Nesteruk, Randy Noojin, Noelle Neglia, Diana de Luna, Matthew Tischler, and Cam Kornman. Lighting: Sarah Crowe. Stage Manager: Liz McMillan. Producer, LaMama ETC: Beverly Petty. Associate producer: Shantigar Foundation. General Manager, TReE: Steven Ryan. Public Relations: Jonathan Slaffe. Outreach: Amanda Ladd.
FEAR ITSELF, Secrets of the White House a farcical tragedy Premiere 2006, Theater for the New City, NYC. Hilarious, harrowing, politically radical take on Bush II White House – how a cruelly dysfunctional First Family results in a cruelly dysfunctional foreign policy. [full length; 10 actors – 7 men, 3 women]*
KING OF THE UNITED STATES music by Richard Peaslee. Premiere 1972, directed by author, Theater for New City, NYC. Grotesque socio-political fantasy of modern America, a devastating comment on our collective flaws and weaknesses and the questionable ways we choose our leaders. “...the same spontaneity and humor evident in America Hurrah” NY Times. "Van Itallie's writing is simply exquisite – graceful and intelligent and truthful…everything wonderful." NY Post. [full length; 4 men, 3 women. Non-musical version: MYSTERY PLAY [both published by DPS]
MILA, GREAT SORCERER, a new opera, a work in progress—libretto by van Itallie and Lois Walden, music by Andrea Clearfield. A thousand years ago young Milarepa vengefully killed thirty-five people but with hard work turned his life around to become Tibet’s greatest teacher and folk hero.
War and Four Other Plays (published in one volume by Dramatists Play Service)
WAR, ALMOST LIKE BEING, I’M REALLY HERE, THE HUNTER AND THE BIRD Premiere 1964, Open Theater ensemble at Sheridan Square Playhouse, NYC. Humorous and fantastic, its absurdist style delights and intrigues. [12 minutes, 1 woman, 1 man] Click here to learn more.
WHERE IS DE QUEEN? Premiere 1966 LaMama ETC, NYC (as Dream Play) and Firehouse Theatre, Minneapolis. A man's dream; that timeless moment between sleep and waking. [50 minutes, 9 actors] Click here to learn more.
SEVEN SHORT and VERY SHORT PLAYS
(published by Dramatists Play Service)
EAT CAKE Premiere 1971 Changing Scene, Denver, Colorado. A housewife absorbed in her TV is violated by deliveries of ever-increasing amounts of cake.[45 minutes; 1 woman,1 man] Click here to learn more.
PHOTOGRAPHS: MARY AND HOWARD Premiere circa 1972, Mark Taper Forum, L.A., part of a festival of short plays. While their voices converse, two people regard each other silently, still as two photographs.[8 minutes; 1 woman, 1 man] Click here to learn more.
THE GIRL AND THE SOLDIER Premiere circa 1965, LaMama ETC, NYC, part of a bill of 22 short plays. A girl sings as a marching soldier speaks of love and war. [3 minutes; 1 woman, 1 man] Click here to learn more.
TAKE A DEEP BREATH Premiere 1968, Eric Bentley’s DMZ cabaret, NYC. Victims of air pollution assemble their own mausoleum while telling how they died. [7 minutes; 3 or more actors] Click here to learn more.
ROSARY circa 1965, written for a short film starring Marcia Jean Kurtz. A nun, riding home on the subway, says her rosary, revealing the depth of her personal anguish. [8 minutes; 1 woman] Click here to learn more.
HAROLD Premiere 1972, part of King of the United States, Theater for the New City, NYC. Doctors dismember a patient (played dually by an actor and a dummy) to prove he is in the best of health. [10 minutes; 2 men, 1 woman] Click here to learn more.
THOUGHTS ON THE INSTANT OF GREETING A FRIEND IN THE STREET written with Sharon Thie Premiere 1965 by Open Theater at St Marks Playhouse, NYC, part of anti-war evening. [5 minutes; 1 man, 1 woman] Click here to learn more.
EARLY WARNINGS (published in one volume by Dramatists Play Service)
Three short plays Premiere 1980, Manhattan Theatre Club, NYC. "The highly theatricalized imagery and free-flowing dialogue represent a return in spirit to Mr. van Itallie's most celebrated success, America Hurrah." – NY Times
SUNSET FREEWAY Driving the Los Angeles freeways. [35 minutes; 1 woman] Sunset Freeway was first produced at the Manhattan Theatre Club with Bag Lady and Final Orders (under the collective title Early Warnings). It is a twenty minute monologue for a young actress driving on the Los Angeles freeways, written for and first performed by Rosemary Quinn Click here to learn more.
FINAL ORDERS Guarding the doomsday black box. [15 minutes, 2 men] Click here to learn more.
ADAPTIONS OF CLASSICS
Euripedes’ MEDEA Premiere circa 1968, Kent State U, Ohio [5 men, 5 women] * Click here to learn more.
MASTER and MARGARITA Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel, translated by Sergei Kobiakoff, commissioned by Public Theater, NYC. Premiere 1993, Theater for the New City, NYC. Dear to the hearts of Russians, Master and Margarita, a suppressed cult novel in Stalinist days, expresses forbidden truths with wild spirit, humanity and humor.
"As one might expect, Jean-Claude van Itallie's stage adaptation of Master and Margarita keeps an audience startled and amused." NY Times. "Master and Margarita captures all the wildness, wit, and sadness of Bulgakov's work... There isn't a dull moment." Theater Week. [full length; 11 men, 2 women, DPS] Click here to learn more.
Jean Genet’s THE BALCONY Premiere 1985, American Repertory Theater, Cambridge, Mass.1988 version dir: Jean-Claude van Itallie, NYU, NYC.
Again and again we allow ourselves to be seduced by glamorous larger-than-life erotic images – political, religious, cultural, and commercial ‘stars.’ The more we worship these, give over our emotional centers to them, the bigger they grow while we grow smaller and our power diminishes. [full length; 11 speaking roles]* Click here to learn more.
Eugene Ionesco’s THE TAMING OF JACQUES, a naturalistic comedy, co-translation with Donald Watson of Jacques ou la Soumission, commissioned by Ubu Rep Theater, NYC. At Guggenheim Museum in 1988 Ionesco himself read aloud the long monologue from this play in French, van Itallie read it in English. [one act; 4 men, 5 women]*
THE ODYSSEY, a musical, music by Tony Scheitinger [full length, unproduced]*
A FABLE created collaboratively with former Open Theater actors, composer Richard Peaslee, and director Joseph Chaikin. Premiere 1975 Lenox, Mass. and Westbeth Exchange Theater, NYC. "The tale is Thurberish, William Steig-like, a picaresque journey filled with pluck, luck, and comic roadblocks." NY Times. "…a remarkable and beautiful achievement." Village Voice. [full length; 4 men, 4 women, DPS]
PARADISE GHETTO Premiere 1987, Actor’s Alley Repertory Theatre, LA. A play about Theresienstadt, the Nazi detention camp for artists in Czechoslovakia. [full length; 13 men, 5 women, double casting possible]*
Click here to learn more.
PRIDE Part of Seven Deadly Sins, circa 1982, McArthur Theater, Princeton, N.J. [about 10 minutes; two men, one woman]*
OTHER PERFORMANCE PIECES
GUYS DREAMIN’ monologues written and performed by Court Dorsey, Kermit Dunkelberg, and Jean-Claude van Itallie. Premiere 1997 Shelburne Falls and Boston, Mass., La Mama ETC, NYC. [full length; 3 men]* Click Here to Learn More
WAR, SEX, and DREAMS Jean-Claude van Itallie’s autobiographical one person show Premiere 1999 Highways, Santa Monica, Calif./ 2000 LaMama ETC, NYC. Raves from LA and NY Times.* Click Here to Learn More