Jean-Claude van Itallie Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Jean-Claude van Itallie (van IHT-ahl-lee) was born in Brussels, Belgium, May 25, 1936, son of investment banker Hugo Ferdinand and Marthe Mathilde Caroline (Levy) van Itallie. The family emigrated to the United States in 1940. He grew up comfortably in Great Neck, New York, but came to view the suburbs as a horrible place to live. Because his grandfather piqued his interest in history, he went on to major in the history and literature of Russia, France, and England at Harvard, graduating in 1958. He set up an apartment in New York City and a country home in Charlemont, Massachusetts. Van Itallie has routinely taken residencies at theaters and universities, working on production of his plays and teaching playwriting. These include the Yale School of Drama, New York University, the Naropa Institute and the University of Colorado in Boulder, and Kent State University, Ohio, where he has donated his papers. A private man, van Itallie maintains inner harmony through practicing yoga and Buddhism.

In 1959 van Itallie began graduate school at New York University and studied acting at the Neighborhood Playhouse. He took his first job in 1960 as editor of the Transatlantic Review. Next, he wrote teleplays for the religious television program Look Up and Live, simultaneously writing experimental one-act plays for the budding Off-Off-Broadway theater. He became playwright-in-residence at the newly formed Open Theatre and established a lasting professional relationship with director Joseph Chaikin. They worked together with the actors to develop new performance techniques, striving for ways to establish emotional...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

“Ages of the Avant-Garde.” Performing Arts Journal 16 (January, 1994). A detailed account of van Itallie’s writing.

Bryer, Jackson R., ed. The Playwright’s Art: Creating the Magic of Theater. New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1997. Considers van Itallie’s aesthetic.

Cohn, Ruby. New American Dramatists, 1960-1990. 2d ed. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1991. Joseph Chaikin’s theatrical relationship with van Itallie is explored.

Lahr, John. Up Against the Fourth Wall. New York: Grove Press, 1970. Important early assessment of van Itallie’s work.

Plunka, Gene. Jean-Claude van Itallie and the Off-Broadway Theater. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1999. Assesses van Itallie’s role in the history of Off-Broadway theater. Includes an extensive bibliography.

Serif 8 (Winter, 1972). Jean-Claude van Itallie special issue. Important early assessment of van Itallie’s work.