Editor’s note: John Belluso passed away on February 10, 2006.
Playwright John Belluso brought physical handicap to the stage, front and center. But rather than using his plays to teach his audience a lesson, Belluso’s works are darkly humorous and even sexy. Spark goes backstage at San Francisco’s Magic Theatre when Belluso and director Chris Smith were working on “The Rules of Charity.”
Los Angeles-based Belluso used a wheelchair from the age of 13 and often put his own experiences with disability at the center of his dramatic work. “The Rules of Charity” tells the story of Monty, a middle-aged gay man who suffers from cerebral palsy, a debilitating disease that results from a lack of oxygen at birth. Those who suffer from the disease commonly experience both physical disability and speech impairment, to varying degrees.
In “The Rules of Charity,” although Monty has a slight speech impairment, his disability is expressed primarily through bodily contortions and movements. An able-bodied actor, David Keith, was cast in the lead, a decision that was made in part because of the exceptional physical demands of the role. It was a great responsibility for Keith, who had to render the experience of someone struggling with the disease for his entire life.
For Belluso, “The Rules of Charity” signified more than an isolated theatrical event. He believed that the growing awareness of the rights of the disabled is spawning a cultural movement. Other handicapped people are learning storytelling skills, resulting in more emerging theater dealing with experiences of the disabled.
More about John Belluso
John Belluso was a 2003-2004 National Endowment for the Arts/Theatre Communications Group Playwright-in-Residence at the Atlantic Theatre in New York and received a VSA-Arts Playwright Discovery Award, the John Golden Playwriting Prize and an NYU Tisch School of the Arts Dramatic Writing Program’s Graduate Playwriting Award. In addition, he was director of the Mark Taper Forum’s Other Voice Project, one of the nation’s few professional developmental labs for theater artists with disabilities, and was a member of New Dramatists, the Taper Writer’s Workshop and Ensemble Studio Theatre.
More about the Magic Theatre
Founded by John Lion in 1967, the Magic Theatre has since premiered more than 200 works. The organization is dedicated solely to the development and production of new plays, from both emerging and established playwrights. Magic Theatre plays and playwrights have won two Pulitzer Prizes for Drama, given to Sam Shepard for “Buried Child” in 1979 and to Nilo Cruz in 2003 for “Anna in the Tropics.” Other awards include numerous Bay Area Critics Circle Awards, a Kennedy Center Award, the Los Angeles Drama-Logue Award, the NAACP Image Award and 10 Obie Awards.
Where: Fort Mason Center, Building D, 3rd Floor, San Francisco
Phone: (415) 441-8001