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'Pyretown' Playwright John Belluso


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'Pyretown' Playwright John Belluso

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John Belluso

Playwright John Belluso, who championed the rights of disabled people in both his work and through the writer's program he helped direct, has died. He was 36. Belluso was found dead Friday, February 10 in his Manhattan hotel room where he had been working since mid-January to finish a play commissioned by New York's Public Theater, New York police Detective Chris Filippazzo said.

The cause of death was under investigation, but Filippazzo said foul play was not suspected. Belluso, who used a wheelchair, had a debilitating bone disease called Engleman-Camurdrie Syndrome, according to friends. Until last July, Belluso had helped direct the Other Voices Project, a development program at Los Angeles' Mark Taper Forum for writers with disabilities.

"He was a good storyteller, and he wanted to tell the stories of the disabled from a personal point of view," said Gordon Davidson, founding artistic director of Mark Taper Forum. Davidson produced Belluso's 2001 play "The Body of Bourne," about Randolph Bourne, a World War I pacifist and writer disfigured by childhood spinal tuberculosis.

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David Warren Keith as Monty, Arwen Anderson as his daughter

Loretta and Gabriel Marin as Horace in John Belluso's 'The Rules

of Charity'

In his 2005 play, "The Rules of Charity," love and hate, cruelty and goodness are the everyday contradictions in the life of Monty, a disabled gay man. In this provocative and poetic play, the mythic American impulse to challenge adversity is pitched against a society that condemns poverty as the greatest disability of all.

Belluso grew up in a working-class section of Warwick, Rhode Island, and had difficulty moving around since childhood. He began using a wheelchair at 13. His life changed in his late teens when he accompanied a friend to a production of Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar" at Trinity Repertory Theater in Providence, Rhode Island.

"By the second act, I had decided this is something I want to be involved with, but I didn't know how," he told the Providence Journal-Bulletin in 1998. From junior college theater courses, he went on to earn a bachelor's and a 1996 master's degree in playwriting from New York University.

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Donna Lubrano (far right) as Gretty with the cast of

John Belluso's 'Gretty Good Time.'

There he found a high-powered mentor in playwright Tony Kushner. "John . . . really lives his politics," Kushner told the Los Angeles Times in 2001. "It's incredibly exciting when someone with that kind of understanding of their own experience comes to the theater."

"He was so charismatic, one of those great, generous personalities," said Victoria Lewis, a professor of theater at the University of Redlands who viewed Belluso as a coming talent when she was running the Other Voices Project at the Taper

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