Theater director Rene Moreno takes a fall but bounces back for WingSpan staged reading
Bath House Cultural Center, 521 E. Lawther Drive.
Thursdayâ€“Friday at 7:30 p.m. $10. WingspanTheatre.com.
Picture the scene: A man makes a transfer —not at the bank or the airport or even the bus station, but from one wheelchair to the next. In a split second, his hand slips and the wheels give way. He’s struggling but it’s no use — he falls to the ground. And hears a loud "snap!" As he makes his way to the phone, he notices a broken bone.
All is not well.
It might make for a tense opening scene for a play — perhaps one that Rene Moreno, North Texas’ most respected stage director, could make even better. But it’s not a scene Moreno directed; it’s one he lived. And now, after four months of recovery, he’s preparing to head back to the stage in WingSpan Theatre Co.’s staged reading of Â¡Cenote!
"I had a new chair and slipped and fell," Moreno says matter-of-factly. "I looked down at my leg and it looked funny. It didn’t break the skin but there was a bone sticking out. It turned out to be a spiral fracture and required surgery. I don’t know what was more scary: preferring to feel it or not feeling it."
Moreno’s no-nonsense manner doesn’t make the description any less cringe-inducing. He underwent surgery, which ended up affecting his hip, requiring more surgery. But the worse part of it all, he was out of theater for a while.
"You do a lot of thinking when you’re laid up," he says. "When you’re out for that long a time, you think a lot about not doing it. You know the limitations of yourself but if anything, now I have real sense of joy to be back at work. That’s where I’m at right now."
At the time, Moreno was spent. He had done several plays without much downtime and felt he was burning out. His exhaustion may have even derailed his concentration, leading to his fall.
Moreno is now concentrating on staying healthy and now that he’s back, a slew of work coming his way — he’ll soon direct a production at SMU of Mrs. Warren’s Profession.
But Â¡Cenote! is Moreno’s return to the stage — and this time, in front of the footlights (a Broadway acting veteran, he only acts occasionally now). He’s feeling not only fit, but grateful at how life has unfolded for him.
"I’m almost 51 now and I get to continue doing what I love," he says. “I’m playing a Mayan king struggling with the idea of whether or not his daughter should be sacrificed to bring rain for their food. This king is a weakened king. I think the chair amplifies something about his state and I feel akin to him. I feel I’m right for this."
There aren’t many choice roles for a theater actor in a wheelchair, but Moreno has thrived on using it as an extension of the characters he plays, like the king in Â¡Cenote! or his notable turn as the title character in Kitchen Dog Theater’s production of Shakespeare’s Richard III.
"I try to select roles where the wheelchair will amplify what’s going on with the character and add to the dimensionality of the role," he says. "I feel who I am in the chair and what that is emotionally for me. It helps to feed the character."
Moreno plans to be careful though in the future. He has a cheery disposition despite the slip and fall, but he’s realistic.
"I feel great. And hey, people in chairs fall every now and again."
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 9, 2010.