Jean Claude van Itallie died on September 9, 2021 in Manhattan. He was a central figure in the experimental theater movement for decades and an early friend and student of Trungpa Rinpoche. You can hear him talk about his recollections of Rinpoche in this Chronicles interview from 2004.
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Jean-Claude had a very old Mercedes convertible that his father had somehow gotten out of Germany just before the war. It was light blue, and very beautiful. One day in early Spring, we decided to drive out to Jones Beach, with the top down. As we were about to leave the beach to come back to Manhattan, it began to rain. Jean-Claude struggled to put the top back up, but couldn’t figure out how to do it. He pulled out the owner’s manual, only to discover that it had been written entirely in German, a language he did not know. I didn’t know German either, but by some inexplicable providence was able to decipher just enough to enable us to replace the convertible top. This facility surprised me, and greatly impressed Jean-Claude. The remainder of that day’s excursion was filled with mirth, drollery and playful amusement, qualities that Jean-Claude possessed in abundance. Thanks for the fun.
Dear Jean-Claude....light and mischievous smile, prancing mind. Changed the world of theater by his creativity. He lent his magical house in Charlemont, western Ma., to Trungpa Rinpoche to do his first retreat in the USA in 1973 (check date please). I was lucky enough to be invited by Rinpoche to join him and a gang of Vajradhatu guys for some days. Rinpoche loved the house and the porch and the melting snow and the purity of the land and JC's home. He sat at the dining room table and wrote a play. He hung out on the porch to film the damp leaves and drops of water. He returned another year. Thank you Jean-Claude for sharing Shantigar with Rinpoche, and later with many creative and seeking people. Your contributions will continue your legacy.
Jean-Claude van Itallie, a playwright, director and performer who was a mainstay of the experimental theater world and who was especially known for “America Hurrah,” a form-bending trio of one-acts that opened in 1966 in the East Village and ran for more than 630 performances, died on Sept. 9 in Manhattan. He was 85.
His brother, Michael, said the cause was pneumonia.
Beginning in the late 1950s, Mr. van Itallie immersed himself in the vibrant Off Off Broadway scene, where playwrights and performers were challenging theatrical conventions. He joined Joseph Chaikin’s newly formed Open Theater in 1963, and his first produced play, “War,” was staged in the West Village. He was a favorite of Ellen Stewart, who had founded La MaMa Experimental Theater Club in 1961.