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The Tibetan Book of the Dead

The Tibetan Book of the Dead
Your Price: $17.95 CDN
Author: Jean-Claude van Itallie
Publisher: Dramatists Play Service (cover may change)
Format: Softcover
# of Pages: 52
Pub. Date: 1983
Edition: Acting
ISBN-10: 0822211483
ISBN-13: 9780822211488
Cast Size: 2 female, 5 male

About the Play:

The Tibetan Book of the Dead (or "How Not to Do It Again") is a full-length imaginistic drama by Jean-Claude van Itallie. The play is based on the classic Tibetan Buddhist text of the same name, read to guide the dying through their journey from death toward nirvana or rebirth. Tibetan Buddhists believe that to hear The Tibetan Book of the Dead even once in this lifetime confers great blessings because it is also a profound reflection upon the choices one makes in life. In the play, the deep wisdom of the original texts is entirely accessible even to those with no knowledge of Tibetan Buddhism.

The Tibetan Book of the Dead follows the dying one into the afterlife and beyond, as the soul journeys to rebirth, capturing one of the most powerful religious texts humankind has known. Based on the classic Buddhist text, the play deals with the transmigration of the soul and the choices to be made as the spirit hovers in suspended animation. The Tibetan Book of the Dead is a guidebook to be read aloud to the dying or deceased; it gives practical, navigational instructions through the Tibetan afterlife. This manual instructs the living as well as the dead to remain alert, to be fearless, and remain undistracted by the trivialities of daily living. Brilliantly theatrical in concept and execution, the piece blends music, mime, dance movement and spoken dialogue to create the perpetual stream of colours, sensations and illusions that assail the transient soul and seek to distract it from its proper course. Envisioned as taking place within a human skull, the play depicts the soul re-experiencing the life cycle as, momentarily, it floats free from the trials of earthly existence while striving to overcome the ambitions, wants, jealousies and fears that can obscure the crucial turning point at which it can rejoin the living "like a king" – head held high and with the errors of previous existence both comprehended and surmounted.

The Tibetan Book of the Dead premiered in 1983 to great acclaim at the legendary La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club (La MaMa E.T.C.) off-off-Broadway in New York City. The play has been performed in regional repertory, high school, college, and community theatre productions.

Cast: 2 female, 5 male

What people say:

"The Tibetan Book of the Dead is a magnificent text, and van Itallie has created a powerful dramatic version of this classic work…It was one of those occasions where after five minutes I knew I was witnessing a masterpiece." — Other Stages

"The text is simple and cogent, dignified without pretension." — Village Voice

"A contemporary look at the fascinating ceremonial and ritual roots of theatre." — Calgary Herald

About the Playwright:

Jean-Claude van Itallie (1936-2021) was one of the most distinguished playwrights of the American avant-garde. Born in Brussels, Belgium, he was three when his family fled the Holocaust to America as refugees in 1940. He grew up on suburban Long Island, graduated Harvard in 1958, and in the 1960s was a seminal force in the explosive New York Off-Broadway theatre. He may be best-known for America Hurrah (his landmark counter-culture trilogy comprised of Interview, TV and Motel), The Serpent, Tibetan Book of the Dead, and his translations of Chekhov's major plays, which are prized by directors and actors for their clarity and actability, are possibly the most performed Chekhov versions on the American stage.