NEW YORK — Ruth Maleczech, a reigning figure of the New York avant-garde theater for more than four decades, died Sept. 30 at her home in Brooklyn. She was 74.
She had been suffering from cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
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 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 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 co-dependent 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 to Yugoslavian immigrant parents, a steelworker and a seamstress.