interview with the "San Francisco Observer" John Belluso
predicted that disability would always be a theme in his work.
"It is an experience that shapes my life and view of the world,
and a topic that I find endlessly fascinating because there is
that universal element… It is the one minority class in which
anyone can become a member of at any time."
At the time
of his death Belluso was working to complete "The Poor Itch,"
a play about an injured soldier returning home from Iraq, scheduled
for production at the Public Theater in New York City.
Portrayed in films and on stage,
disability in the spotlight or disability rendered obliquely can
bear equally important implications. A few years ago I saw the movie
"Affliction" with two friends, one disabled, one not. Late in the
film the Nick Nolte character confers with his divorce lawyer. As
their conference ends the lawyer pulls away from his desk and you
see that he is using a power chair. The moment is brief, without
emphasisand therein lies its significance.
As the scene quickly came and
went I could feel surprise jolt all three of us. Outside the theater
it was the first thing we buzzed about: "Was there a meaning we
didn't catch?" "Was the lack of special significance in fact what
was significant." "Would the average moviegoer, not tuned into disability,
notice anything at all?" "Was the actor himself disabled?"
These questions open a discussion
that leaves us hopeful and uneasy in equal measure. We are eager
to see ourselvesdisabled, gay, disabled and gayincluded
in entertainment and the arts. We long to see our reality woven
into the cloth of everybody's else's reality, and to see it highlighted
as its own special reality, too. And why not, after all?
The question turns out to be not
so easily answered. Last year, San Francisco's Magic Theatre gave
us a partial answer when it staged a landmark play, "The Rules of
Charity." What made it noteworthy was how playwright John Belluso
chose to embed the lives of his characters in a political context
that addressed concerns familiar to all of us cripssocial
justice concerns, for want of a better term, a combination of the
personal and political seen onstage too seldom.
What made "Charity" a landmark
doubly relevant to BENT readers was Monty, its protagonist. Monty
is not only a wheelchair user with cerebral palsy, he is queer as
well. Unlike so many crip or queer characters, Monty is not a cameo
role or a foil for other, more important characters. He is the main
event, probably the most important disabled gay character seen onstage
since Ken, in Lanford Wilson's "The Fifth of July." Ken's being
gay was incidental, however, itself significant in 1977, when queers
were likely to occupy "problem" roles and disabled characters were
unlikely to be depicted at all.
The fact that Monty is queer is
anything but incidental. The fact that he is a disabled character
full of contradictions, anger, and violent behavior gives him the
potential for truth-telling
typical of John Belluso's other plays. They include "The Body of
Bourne," which premiered at the Mark Taper Forum in 200, its protagonist
the American social critic Randolph Bourne (1886-1918), who was
disfigured by childhood spinal tuberculosis. "Gretty Good Time"
(1998), concerns a woman paralyzed by polio who resists seeing herself
as a victim. Satire and caustic humor characterize "Henry Flamethrowa"
(2001), about a long-comatose little girl believed to have healing
powers, while "Pyretown" (2003) is an acerbic look at American healthcare.
Those of us who saw "The
Rules of Charity" looked forward to how John Belluso might
build on the character of Monty in future work. Now we have only
his past work to ponder.
To date, "The
Body of Bourne" is the only one of John Belluso's plays to have
There is a [literary]
canon of disability, but it is always viewed through the lens
(a lens smudged with fear and anxiety) of the non-disabled writer.
I think it's like any other "minority" group; when the tables
are turned and the stories/myths are coming from within the group,
old perceptions are shattered. -John Belluso
A Journal of CripGay Voices/March 2006