John Belluso, Who Wrote Plays About Disability, Is Dead at 36

By JESSE McKINLEY for the NYT – John Belluso, a young playwright who translated his own experiences with physical disability into a prolific body of promising work, died on Friday at a hotel in Manhattan. He was 36 and lived in Los Angeles.  

A spokesman for the police department said an investigation was continuing but referred questions to the medical examiner’s office. Ellen Borakov, a spokesman for the medical examiner, said an initial autopsy was inconclusive and results from additional tissue testing would not be available for two weeks.

Mr. Belluso, who had Engleman-Camurdrie syndrome, a rare bone disorder that taxes the muscles, had used a wheelchair since he was 13. His work often featured characters suffering from physical maladies, and he used a mix of empathy and sharp-tongued humor to plumb their condition for deeper meaning.

In “Gretty Good Time,” his 1999 dark comedy, a young woman, a victim of polio who uses a wheelchair, longs to die but still gets laughs — and leering looks from other characters — as she plots her own demise with a mixture of wit, anger and sex appeal. Writing in The New York Times, Lawrence Van Gelder said Mr. Belluso had applied “high drama and sharp satire to questions of life and death.”

In a 2005 interview with The San Francisco Observer, Mr. Belluso said he found disability “endlessly fascinating” because of its universality. “Everyone, if they live long enough, will become disabled,” Mr. Belluso said. “It is the one minority class which anyone can become a member of at anytime.”

A graduate of New York University’s graduate playwriting program, where he studied with Tony Kushner and John Guare, Mr. Belluso began writing in earnest in the late 1990’s, and found widespread success, with plays produced at the Magic Theater in San Francisco (“The Rules of Charity”); the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles (“The Body of Bourne”); the Humana Festival of New Plays in Louisville, Ken. (“A Nervous Smile”); and the Eugene O’Neill Center in Waterford, Conn. (“Body Songs,” written with the director Joseph Chaikin). As the director of Other Voices Project at the Taper, from 1999 to 2005, Mr. Belluso also oversaw the development of other disabled theater artists.

A native of Warwick, R.I., Mr. Belluso is survived by his mother, Sally Belluso of Warwick; and his sisters, Sandi Suarez of South Lake Tahoe, Calif.; and Diane Bucci of Easton, Penn.

Mr. Belluso’s career had gained momentum with a pair of Off Broadway productions in 2005 — “Pyretown,” and “Henry Flamethrowa” — as well as a job writing for HBO’s “Deadwood.” Mr. Belluso was working on a play, “The Poor Itch,” about an injured soldier returning home from Iraq, for the Public Theater at the time of his death. The play remains unfinished.

The Public plans a memorial for Mr. Belluso at its East Village home on Feb. 27.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: