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Remembering Jean-Claude van Itallie

A black-and-white portrait of Jean-Claude van Itallie, a seated older man with white hair wearing a collared shirt
a black arrow pointing downward

We are saddened to learn of the passing of Jean-Claude van Itallie, a legendary playwright, director, and performer who was a favorite of La MaMa’s founder Ellen Stewart.

Motel, the third piece of America Hurrah, was first performed at La MaMa in 1965, and ran for more than 630 performances. van Itallie continued making new work for over half a century, including his play The Tibetan Book of the Dead Or How Not To Do It Again which premiered at La MaMa in 1983. La MaMa staged the premiere of his play The Fat Lady Sings just two years ago in 2019.

In remembering van Itallie, Mia Yoo said, “Jean-Claude van Itallie was an artist who was constantly questioning and digging into the deeper realms of our human existence and spirit. In this moment of change, it is artists like Jean-Claude whom we must look to…I think of Ellen Stewart and him looking down at us and insisting that we move and make change.”


The New York Times — Jean-Claude van Itallie, 'America Hurrah' Playwright, Dies at 85

American Theatre — Jean-Claude van Itallie Made Adventures Possible

Image (above) of Jean-Claude van Itallie by Susan Johan
Image (first row, left) of Jean-Claude van Itallie taken on the first night La MaMa was open
Image (first row, center) of Pavane (1967) by Phil Niblock
Image (first row, right) of The Tibetan Book of the Dead Or How Not To Do It Again (1983) by Jerry Vezzuso
Image (second row, left) of American Hurrah (1965) by Phil Niblock

A portrait of Jean-Claude van Itallie as a younger man, seated in a studi with his hands clasped and wearing a collared shirt and sweater
A photo of an ensemble with a frowning woman in a hat in the foreground and four men in suits and two women in the background
A colorful performance set with one performer in orange in the center standing on stage and four performers sitting in a raised structure, one on the left and three on the right
A performer wearing a large mask resembling a human face and wearing gloves, holding a large object