While I was out of the country, the great American stage actress and Mabou Mines co-founder Ruth Maleczech died September 30 at the age of 74. I had the pleasure of watching her work for more than 30 years and give memorable performances in productions staged by JoAnne Akalaitis (Kroetz’s Through the Leaves for Mabou Mines, Genet’s The Screens for the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis), Peter Sellars (Velimir Khlebnikov’s Zangezi), and most especially her longtime partner Lee Breuer (Hajj, An Epidog). She had an unforgettable, striking visage, with her flaming red hair and gap-toothed grin (Ben Brantley’s generous obituary in the New York Times mentioned one critic describing her as “a Technicolor Lucy on a binge”).
Beyond being phenomenally talented, she was kind, loving, and extremely honest. I got to interview her a number of times for articles about Mabou Mines in the Soho News, American Theatre magazine, and the New York Times. I remember being extremely touched hearing her talk about the sacrifices she’d made to be the uncompromising artist she was.
“The children have paid dearly,” she said, referring to the son (Lute Ramblin) and daughter (Clove Galilee) she had with Breuer. “They’ve paid with lack of time, lack of parent input when they need it, having to be sick at home alone sometimes when it would be nicer if somebody was there with you. They pay with not having things that their friends have, objects, you know, property. They pay by living in a very dangerous neighborhood because that’s the one that can be afforded. Sometimes I think the kids just look at you and think you’re a real asshole because you blew it. Especially in the ’80s. These are not the times to be a poor, struggling artist. It tends to be that when they need something really badly and there’s no money for them to have it, it just feels bad. Other times that doesn’t seem to be the most important thing. Sometimes they think it’s great because you do it.”