En español | “I feel like I could go on forever,” says Rita Moreno, musing on the latest chapter of her life and career. The Tony, Oscar, Emmy and Grammy winner is back onstage. And on TV. And is planning to write a book about her life. “I’m this year’s Betty White,” she jokes during lunch on one of the patios at her home in the Berkeley Hills of California.
See also: Q&A with Rita Moreno.
The levity belies the difficult year Moreno, 79, has had. First her husband died; then she underwent knee-replacement surgery. Yet, just two months out of the hospital, the actress and dancer was back performing onstage — in a chair. She's spent this summer commuting up and down the California coast, taping a new sitcom in Los Angeles and rehearsing a new play in Berkeley.
Her stunning home with a large front patio and an outdoor fireplace is a few minutes from the theater where she's played strong women like soprano Maria Callas in Master Class, Amanda Wingfield in Tennessee Wiliams’sThe Glass Menagerie and, soon, herself.
Life Without Makeup, Rita Moreno’s story, will premiere at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre in September. Written by Tony Taccone, the theater’s artistic director, the play is the culmination of many often emotionally grueling hours of interviews with the actress.
Onstage, Moreno (née Rosita Dolores Alverío) recalls the stormy sea voyage from Puerto Rico to New York with her family when she was 5. She describes the apartment they shared with three other families, the sweatshop where she and her mother worked, and the dance classes. At 9, she says, she was “working the bar mitzvah circuit as a miniature version of Carmen Miranda.” Her mother made her the fruit-decorated hat.
Later, to support her mother and a string of consecutive stepfathers, she took on a number of film roles she considered degrading and an assault on her dignity: a mute runaway Indian slave, a Polynesian in a sarong, an Arab in a turban. And even after her heralded success in West Side Story, she was offered mostly roles as gangland girlfriends, mothers of gang members or whorehouse madams.