Norman Rene first made his mark as a director working primarily off-Broadway and in regional theater. He was co-founder and artistic director of the acclaimed The Production Company from 1977 to 1985. While Rene had directed the work of many writers, he was best-known for his many collaborations with writer Craig Lucas. The pair met in 1980 when Lucas fashioned a musical revue from lesser-known Stephen Sondheim songs, "Marry Me A Little", which was presented at The Production Company in NYC. Subsequently, Rene directed nearly all of Lucas' plays including "Blue Window" (1984), which he helmed for PBS in 1987, and the chamber musical "Three Postcards" (1987). He won praise for his sensitive handling of George Furth's autobiographical drama "Precious Sons" (1986), which also marked his Broadway directorial debut.
Rene and Lucas collaborated on 1990's "Longtime Companion", one of the first features to deal directly with the AIDS epidemic and its effects on the gay community. The moving, sometimes black-humored drama focused on several NYC gay men as they cope with the disease. Rene's even-handed direction allowed several of the ensemble actors to shine, notably Bruce Davison, Campbell Scott and Stephen Caffrey. That same year, Rene directed the stage version of "Prelude to a Kiss" and translated it to the screen in 1992. Rene's sophomore directing effort received mixed critical attention and a modest box office take. Some critics felt the feature was hampered by the stage origins and did not effectively open up the piece, although most praised stars Meg Ryan and Alec Baldwin. Rene's third and final feature was an adaptation of Lucas' 1988 off-Broadway hit "Reckless" (1995). While dismissed in some critical circles (mostly by those put off by its dark humor), the film featured a virtuoso turn by Mia Farrow, strongly supported by Scott Glenn, Mary-Louise Parker and Stephen Dorff. Of Rene's directing, Stephen Holden wrote in The New York Times that his body of work "was known for his skill at eliciting finely detailed, naturalistic performances from actors and for his mastery of an intimate ensemble style".
Rene died in May 1996 of complications from AIDS.