the tibetan book of the dead

The Annex

October 27, 2008
Monday at 8:00pm

For tickets info please go to Shantigar Foundation webiste
or call 413 339 4332

Written by Jean Claude van Itallie
A benefit to support the rebuilding of the century-old theater barn at Shantigar

Shantigar, in 1977 founded by playwright Jean-Claude van Itallie and named by Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche, is a not-for-profit educational foundation dedicated to the practice and exciting cross-pollination of theater, meditation and healing.  The institution offers workshops and hosts theater artists, meditation masters, and healers.  The barn had been Shantigar's theatre center and a community meeting place, but was lost to a fire in 2000. 
The benefit evening October 27 will begin at 7:30 pm in the lobby with a silent art auction of Asian antiques and of art by friends of Shantigar, including Gwen Fabricant, Mary Frank, Betsy von Furstenburg, Ronald Rand, Deb Katz and Robert Wilson.
Contributors of $350 or more will receive two tickets to the benefit performance and an invitation to Wendy Gimbel's pre-performance party.  Contributors of $100 will receive a ticket to "The Tibetan Book of the Dead" and a signed poster by Jean-Claude van Itallie.  Contributors of $50 will receive a ticket to the performance alone.  Reservations can be made by calling 413 339 4332 or visiting the Shantigar website at
Anyone desiring to contribute a painting or a work of art for the Silent Art Auction can contact Ronald Rand, Benefit Chair, at
Shantigar Foundation is a not-for-profit Foundation. Contributions are tax-deductible to the full extent allowed by law and may be mailed to: Shantigar Foundation, 63 Davenport Road, Rowe, MA 01367.

This production of "Tibetan Book of the Dead or How Not To Do It Again" is a re-investigation of the play by Pilgrim Theatre, which was founded in Poland by Kim Mancuso and Kermit Dunkelberg, who were students of Jerzy Grotowski.  In 1997-98, Pilgrim worked for a year at its center in Ashfield, MA, creating its first production of the piece with eighteen artists involved.  The play made a powerful impact when performed at Boston Center for the Arts.

Western Massachusetts reviewer Gregory Lewis called the production "...a masterpiece... van Itallie's stage adaptation of "Tibetan Book of the Dead" is genius... an allegory of how to live and make choices in the here and now.  It renders an esoteric treatise accessible... Kim Mancuso's skillful direction of three masterful actors--Kermit Dunkelberg, Susan Thompson, and Court Dorsey, supported by on-stage musician John VanEps and Steve Gorn's music--magnifies 'Tibetan Book' to dramatis excelsior.  A lovable, dead one is guided through the 'in-between place' by two angelic beings.  A travel guide to the afterlife, 'Tibetan Book' is a musical pendulum of fright and fun."
The original production of "Tibetan Book of the Dead or How Not To Do It Again" premiered in 1983 in Ellen Stewart's La MaMa Annex to great acclaim.  For this benefit, LaMama resident designer Jun Maeda has recreated his original set: a huge ethereal skull, used by the actors as scaffolding, built of saplings, molded by hand at Shantigar.

Tibetan Buddhists believe that to hear The Tibetan Book of the Dead even once in this lifetime confers great blessings.  Traditionally the treatise is a manual to be read aloud to the dying by friends.  It is navigational instructions, spoken-as-you-go, for the moments surrounding death, and the days that follow.  Its loving counsel applies to living as well as dying.  In the play, the deep wisdom of the original texts is entirely accessible even to those with no knowledge of Tibetan Buddhism. 

The performance features Court Dorsey, Kermit Dunkelberg and Susan Thompson.  It is directed by Kim Mancuso with music by John VanEps and Steve Gorn and costumes by Patricia Spees.  This performance is presented by Shantigar in association with Pilgrim.

In 1940, Shantigar founder Jean-Claude van Itallie's Belgian family fled the holocaust to settle on Long Island, New York.  In 1948 van Itallie's father bought the farm (now Shantigar) as an investment and a sanctuary.  In the sixties van Itallie, a playwright in the revolutionary off Broadway movement, drove up to the farm with Greenwich Village theater friends on voyages of discovery and creativity.  In 1968, when his anti Vietnam war play, "America Hurrah," was a hit, he bought the farm. It's been his home since. In 1977, van Itallie's Buddhist teacher, Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche, retreated for a year to the farm to write his renowned Shambala teachings. Trungpa renamed the farm "Shantigar," which means "peaceful home."  Van Itallie turned Shantigar into a not-for-profit foundation for theater, meditation, and healing.

Jean-Claude van Itallie was born in Brussels, Belgium on May 25, 1936, raised in Great Neck, Long Island, and graduated from Harvard University in 1958.  His trilogy of one-act plays, "America Hurrah," was hailed as the watershed off-Broadway play of the sixties. Van Itallie was one of Ellen Stewart's original "LaMaMa playwrights." He was principal playwright of Joe Chaikin's Open Theater and for that group wrote what has been called the classic ensemble play, "The Serpent."

In the seventies, van Itallie wrote his frequently-produced new English versions of the four major plays of Chekhov, published by Applause Books, New York City: Chekhov, the Major Plays.  "The Tibetan Book of the Dead" premiered at LaMaMa in 1983 and is published by North Atlantic Books, San Francisco. His 1985 translation of Jean Genet's The Balcony was produced by the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "The Traveler," van Itallie's play about an aphasic composer, premiered at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles in 1987.  "Struck Dumb," van Itallie's monologue written with/for Joseph Chaikin, premiered at the Taper Too in Los Angeles in l988 and was presented by The American Place Theatre in New York City in 1991. (It is published in Best Short Plays, 199l-92.)

"Ancient Boys," van Itallie's play about a gay artist living with AIDS, premiered at LaMaMa Annex, February, 1991. His play "Master and Margarita," adapted from Bulgakhov's novel, was presented by Theatre for the New City, NYC, in May, 1993.

Among van Itallie's other plays and translations are: "King of the United States," "Bag Lady," "The Doris Plays," "The Hunter and the Bird," "Medea" and "The Taming of Jacques."

As a performer, van Itallie appeared in 1988 in Boulder, Colorado in "Flesh Chronicles," conceived with choreographer Nancy Spanier. He appeared at the Art Bank in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts in "Guys Dreamin'" in the fall of 1996. This largely autobiographical play, written by the three actors appearing in it, had its NY debut at  LaMaMa in May, 1998.  Van Itallie's one person autobiographical show, "War, Sex and Dreams," began at the Art Bank in Shelburne Falls (with accompanist Steve Sweeting) and had its NY debut at La MaMa.

In 2004, van Itallie's "Light"  had its world premiere in Pasadena, California at the Theatre at Boston Court. His latest play, "Fear Itself, secrets of the White House," premiered at Theater for the New City in NYC in 2006.

Van Itallie's book on play writing, "The Playwright's Workbook," was published in 1997 by Applause Books, NYC.  He is also a painter of large black-on-white calligraphies and his exhibit, "Characters," was at the Open Center Gallery in NYC in May, 1993.

Van Itallie has taught play writing and performance at Princeton, NYU, Harvard, Yale School of Drama, Amherst, Columbia, University of Colorado, Boulder, Naropa Institute and many other colleges. He now teaches workshops in writing and creativity at Shantigar, in Los Angeles and in NYC.

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