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Plays and Books

by Jean-Claude van Itallie

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Published by Grove/ Atlantic, NYC, 2001: plays in this volume include War, America Hurrah, The Serpent, Eat Cake, Bag Lady, The Tibetan Book of the Dead or How Not to Do It Again, and The Traveler.


from the introduction by Bill Coco:

“This collection of Jean-Claude van Itallie’s plays represents a generous overview of a twenty-five-year span in the career of one of the foremost and most original American playwrights of the last half century.”

TEA WITH DEMONS: Games of Transformation

Games of transformation are playful daily practices that flow like a constant brook over the stubborn stones of our old self-destructive patterns, thus slowly wearing them down and washing them away to reveal the stream bed of our basic good nature. 

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The Serpent, a Ceremony

created in collaboration with the Open Theater

directed by Joseph Chaikin

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CHEKHOV: THE MAJOR PLAYS adapted by Jean-Claude van Itallie


Applause Books, NYC, 1995. Jean-Claude van Itallie’s much acclaimed English versions of Anton Chekhov’s The Sea Gull, The Cherry Orchard, Three Sisters and Uncle Vanya.​


"...The advantage of using major playwrights to Anglicize foreign classics are obvious. Occasionally they may slip into the pit of primal creativity, but for most of the time, indeed for virtually all of the time they are renewing language rather than translating it. … Mr. van Itallie’s Sea Gull is idiomatic, but it has the overtones of now and then. It is a real past – translation does have its advantages when the right person is translating the right playwright. There is here the soft trampoline of a subtext that original language productions can never aspire to without the risk of desecration of a national monument." -Clive Barnes, New York Times.


       This Workbook provides writing exercises for playwrights in the way that acting schools provide acting exercises for actors... Elements covered by the Workbook include creating characters, developing story or plot and writing in the natural rhythms of human speech.

      Along with theory, the Workbook develops the practice of playwriting through a series of exercises. Most of the exercises are executed with writing implements. But the practice and understanding of theater is also a physical and emotional affair.

"Jean-Claude is the only playwriting teacher I ever had." -Tony Kushner.​


"The first book ever to allow students to go beyond the well-made play into the heart and soul of the twentieth century…. An incomparable contribution to the field." -Howard Stein, head, Dramatic Writing Programs, Yale Drama, Columbia.​

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The ancient Tibetan text adapted by Jean-Claude van Itallie. Photos from La Mama performance by Gerry Vezzuso. Tibetan art illustrations selected by Professor Deborah Klimburg-Salter. Introduction by Judith Lief, former Dean of Naropa Institute. Published by North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, CA, 1998.

"Jean-Claude van Itallie, one of our most original playwrights and a longtime practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism, has taken Guru Padmasambhava’s 8th century masterpiece, The Great Liberation Through Hearing in the Bardo, or as it’s known in the west, The Tibetan Book of the Dead, and rendered its essential brilliance into deeply moving and inspiring poems meant to be read aloud. Its sole intent is to pilot us wandering voyagers through the illusory and superstitious realms we call life and death. With constant reminders to pay attention and watch our minds, the poet urges us to come to our senses and remember our Nobly Born true selves completely beyond all designation, all hope and all tears… merging with the clear light bliss, no center, no circumference, an ocean with no boat… I love this little book. Read it aloud!" -Richard Gere

"Jean-Claude van Itallie’s presentation of this old classic brings us face to face with the radiance and emptiness of our own minds. He has made new a relevant — even urgent — text: A guide for the continually arising moments of choice in our living and in dying." -Diane di Prima

MILA, Great Sorcerer


Jean-Claude's opera with co-librettist Lois Walden, composer Andrea Clearfield , producers Gene Kaufman and Terry Eder and director Kevin Newbury. 

Oratorio performance in NYC at Gerald Lynch Theater, January 13, 2018.

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The Fat Lady Sings

The Fat Lady Sings exposes the rotting old belief systems and moth-eaten myths that have brought 2019 America to its knees. A White authoritarian evangelical family -- the father eerily like today's occupant of the White House -- lives out its excruciating and abusive confusion of real and virtual on an ancient, dream-like, falling-apart ship of false notions. Filled with rage, despair, and denial; and, exploited by politicians, preachers, and commercial corporations, the family careens toward catastrophe but also—amazingly—cathartic change.

Premiered at LaMama New York City, March 22 - April 07, 2019.

Lauren Flanigan

Tony Torn, photo by Carlos Cardona


Voltaire, Frederick the Great and Emily du Chatelet, a love triangle

premiered at Theater at Boston Court in Pasadena, California, 2006

directed by Jessica Kubzanski

Lenny Von Dohlen as Voltaire


The Balcony

by Jean Genet,  translated/adapted by Jean-Claude van Itallie 

Rosemary Quinn in BALCONY circa 1991.JPG

Rosemary Quinn as Madame Irma,

photo by Jerry Vezzuso



Motel Premiered at La Mama Experimental Theater Club, New York City, 1966. Directed by Michael Kahn.

photo by Phill Niblock, Motel as part of America Hurrah, Pocket Theater, off Broadway, 1966

Struck Dumb

written by Jean-Claude van Itallie and Joseph Chaikin.

Script of Struck Dumb is included in The Best American Short Plays of 1992

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