New York Times
By BEN BRANTLEY
Published: October 2, 2013
Ruth Maleczech, a reigning figure of the New York avant-garde theater for more than four decades, died on Monday at her home in Brooklyn. She was 74.
She had been suffering from cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, her son, Lute Breuer, said.
A founder in 1970 of the iconoclastic Mabou Mines company, which became one of the most closely watched experimental troupes of the succeeding decades, Ms. Maleczech (pronounced MAL-uh-CHEK) was celebrated for her fearlessness as an actress and her disregard for the perceived glamour of her profession.
She occupied the outer margins of established theater and wore that status as a badge of honor, refusing to join Actors’ Equity until the late 1980s and often seeming to revel in the contumely of the mainstream press.
“We got the worst reviews of any play Mabou Mines ever did,” she said of her performance as the title character in the company’s now fabled, gender-reversed “Lear” in 1990. “And I got the worst of all. That’s something I am very proud of.”
Her other roles for Mabou Mines included Madame Curie in “Dead End Kids” (1980), the company’s signature evocation of a nuclear holocaust, and the abused, sexually codependent butcher of Franz Xaver Kroetz’s “Through the Leaves” (1984). She won the Obie Award for excellence in Off Broadway theater three times for acting and once for design.
Ms. Maleczech was born Ruth Sophia Reinprecht in Cleveland on Jan. 8, 1939, to Yugoslavian immigrant parents, a steelworker and a seamstress. She grew up in Arizona and studied theater at the University of California, Los Angeles, where she met her future husband and artistic partner, Lee Breuer. She lived in San Francisco and Paris and studied with the revered theatrical innovator Jerzy Grotowski in Aix-en-Provence, France.
In 1970, Ms. Maleczech and Mr. Breuer founded the discipline-straddling collective Mabou Mines with the English actor David Warrilow, the composer Philip Glass and the director JoAnne Akalaitis. (The name came from a Nova Scotia town close to where the group developed their first project, “The Red Horse Animation.”) In its early days, the troupe’s productions eluded classification and were often discussed as part of the conceptual art movement. (“Red Horse” was presented at the Paula Cooper Gallery in SoHo.)
Mabou Mines went on to specialize in Samuel Beckett, especially his lesser-known works. But it was for creating multimedia collages like “Dead End Kids” (directed by Ms. Akalaitis at the Public Theater and re-created in a film version) that the troupe became best known. And in the 1970s and 80s, along with Richard Foreman’s Ontological-Hysteric Theater and the Wooster Group, Mabou Mines stood at the forefront of the genre-melding avant-garde theater.
Ms. Maleczech also directed productions, including Beckett’s “Imagination Dead Imagine” (1984); “Wrong Guys” (1981), a deconstruction of film noir; and “Song for New York” (2007), a site-specific, harbor-side piece created as a hymn to a city that Ms. Maleczech cherished.
“For 37 years Mabou Mines has been in New York City making work for New York City,” she said in a New York Times interview. “This is probably the only city where this work — all these works — could have been made. So it’s kind of a thank you.”
As an actress, Ms. Maleczech worked with eminent theater artists like Peter Sellars, Charles Mee and Martha Clarke. At the Public Theater, she was directed by Ms. Akalaitis, a lifelong friend, in productions of “Henry IV” (as Mistress Quickly) and “Woyzeck.” Her film appearances included turns in “Basquiat” and “The Crucible,” both in 1996.
In a phone interview, Ms. Akalaitis recalled thinking that Ms. Maleczech and Mr. Breuer were “the most exciting people I had ever met in my life” when all were in their early 20s in San Francisco. “She always said she was not an actor, but a performer,” she said of Ms. Maleczech, adding. “But she really was one of our greatest actors,” one who realized her performances “through some deep subconscious exploration.”
Ms. Maleczech “transmitted a deep reverence and love for the language of a play,” Ms. Akalitis said, and in her last days read aloud speeches from “King Lear” with her daughter, Clove Galilee.
At her death, Ms. Maleczech was working with Ms. Galilee, a choreographer and performer, on a version of Molière’s “Imaginary Invalid,” in which she would portray herself, Molière and the title character. Ms. Galilee said there were still plans to stage the production, possibly next year.
Though Ms. Maleczech and Mr. Breuer separated as spouses, they remained close artistic collaborators. “Ruth was the love of my life,” Mr. Breuer said in a recent interview. “She is certainly the love of my life as an artist.”
Besides her son and daughter, Ms. Maleczech is survived by a brother, Francis Reinprecht; a sister, Patricia Adams; and a grandchild.
While she cut a striking figure, with her red hair and sensuous frame and features (critics described her onstage as looking like “a Technicolor Lucy on a binge” and “Anita Ekberg on a diet”), Ms. Maleczech never presented herself as an exotic diva.
“Kinky, me?” Ms. Maleczech said in an article in The Village Voice about her Lear, responding to a description from Mr. Breuer. “I’m probably the most colorless, hopelessly normal person around. Nothing exciting ever happened to me.”
MALECZECH, Ruth (Ruth Sophia Reinprecht)
Born: 1/8/1939, Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.A.
Died: 9/30/2013, Brooklyn, New York, U.S.A.
Ruth Maleczech’s western – actress:
The Ballad of Little Jo – 1993 (shopkeeper)