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a Nervous Smile

John Belluso, confined to a wheelchair his entire life due to a bone disorder that restricted muscle strength, died earlier this year at the age of 36, while his career as a nationally prominent playwright was rising. For a glimpse at the kind of talent we lost, see Lynn Ann Bernatowicz’s potent staging of Belluso’s morality play about three parents, after years of physical and emotional exhaustion, choosing to abandon their cerebral palsy–inflicted children in order to offer themselves a reprieve from the life sentence that fate has inflicted upon them. Eileen (Francesca Casale) and Brian’s (Louis Lotorto) marriage is on the rocks. A Vicodin addict and alcoholic with a huge family fortune, Eileen doles out a monthly allowance to her adjunct professor of literature and would-be novelist husband. The couple returns home giggling and tipsy from the funeral of a child of somebody in their support group for parents of children with cerebral palsy. They’re accompanied by Eileen’s former best friend, Nicole (Rebecca Jordan) — herself the mother of a C.B. teenager, and their repartee, laced with repressed sexuality and muted hostility, contains echoes of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? It’s soon clear that the “secret” of an affair between Nicole and Brian is no secret at all; in fact, it’s in Eileen’s plans to allow them to run off to Argentina together, while she flees to a new life in London. They’ll simply dump their daughter on the steps of a nearby hospital, with access to money for whoever adopts her. The legality and morality of child abandonment notwithstanding, the play homes in on what, and whom, they’re abandoning — a child with literary gifts and harrowing sensitivity — so that the play, like all good plays, asks what it means to be human. The cast turn in chiseled performances, though the vodka-swilling, Dostoyevsky-spouting Russian maid (Lee DeLong) is something of a cliché. International City Theater at the LONG BEACH PERFORMING ARTS CENTER, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru July 9. (562) 436-4610.

—Steven Leigh Morris


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