Norman Rene, director of “Longtime Companion,” the breakthrough film about AIDS, and several award-winning plays written by his collaborator and friend Craig Lucas, has died of AIDS in New York City. He was 45.
Rene, who died May 24, won the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award in 1985 for the West Coast premiere of Lucas’ play “Blue Window” at the South Coast Repertory Theater.
A Times reviewer termed the play about seven thirtysomething men and women attending a party “elegant” and praised Rene’s “clear, subtle and discerning directorial eye that sees the shadows under these characters’ hopeful eyes.”
Although most of his career was spent in New York theaters, Rene also directed the world premieres of two other highly successful plays at South Coast Repertory--"Three Postcards” in 1987 and “Prelude to a Kiss” in 1988. “Prelude” was made into a motion picture in 1992 starring Alec Baldwin and Meg Ryan and directed by Rene.
“I went into directing instead of acting because I was always interested in the whole rather than the part,” Rene once told The Times. “I was interested in how you could do things visually on stage, how you could evoke feeling by where you put people on stage.”
Born in Rhode Island, Rene studied psychology at Johns Hopkins and earned a degree in directing. After a brief, unsuccessful try at acting in New York, he began directing off-Broadway.
In 1977, he co-founded the Production Company and served as its artistic director until 1985.
Rene met Lucas in 1980 when they collaborated on the Stephen Sondheim revue “Marry Me a Little,” presented by the Production Company.
Rene’s Broadway directing debut came in 1986 with George Furth’s autobiographical play “Precious Sons.”
His first effort at directing for the big screen was “Longtime Companion” in 1990, the first theatrical movie about AIDS to receive wide distribution. Written by Lucas, the film focused on several upscale gay white men in New York coping with the disease and its effect on their community.
Rene’s last motion picture was the screen adaptation of Lucas’ play “Reckless,” starring Mia Farrow, released to theaters last year.
In addition to the Los Angeles drama critics award, Rene earned two DramaLogue Awards and two Obie Awards as a director.
Rene is survived by his companion, Kevin McKenna; his mother, Margaret Rene, and a sister, Claudia Karrot.