Theater Troupe Founder Dies at 77

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Michael Angel Maynez, the quirky yet venerable dean of Ventura theater and the first local director to stage plays about sex and sexual orientation, died Sunday at an Ojai convalescent hospital. He was 77.

Maynez, founder of the city's oldest theater troupe, Plaza Players, succumbed to complications from diabetes. He had been in ill health for about a year, according to close friends.

"Theater can change people's lives," Maynez said in a 1996 interview with The Times.

During the 53 years he ran Plaza Players, Maynez taught many local actors the craft--some of whom went on to become professional actors--and staged nearly 300 productions.

"The hundreds of performers and theater denizens who constituted the community over which he, like some feudal lord, held court, were students, tradespeople, professionals and academics who reveled in the joy of sharing in Michael's theatrical vision," said Steven Z. Perren, an appellate court justice who performed in Maynez's 1970 production of "Man of La Mancha."

Another local actor, Ron Rezac, said Maynez was so passionate about his work that he once canceled a play that Rezac was set to star in because the actor wasn't ready to take the stage.

"He told me I could go elsewhere where they could use me or I could stay here and start from the bottom," Rezac said. "I chose to stay, and it was to my benefit."

Maynez's troupe performed at many locations, including Oxnard's Elks Theater, in a warehouse at the old Wagon Wheel Junction and at the former Livery in downtown Ventura.

Some of his more controversial productions, which he called "wicked theater," included "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"; "Women Behind Bars," a sex spoof about prison life; and "Bent," a play dealing with the Nazis' treatment of homosexuals.

Maynez was born March 26, 1924, in El Paso, Texas. When he was 12, his family moved to Pasadena, where he first discovered the arts in school.

Three years later, the family moved to Oxnard, where his parents opened a Mexican restaurant. He acted in a few high school productions before being drafted into the military in 1942 and shipped to Italy, where he joined a ski trooper unit.

During his war service, Maynez was grazed in the head by an enemy bullet--which he jokingly claimed accounted for his love of the theater. Though never married, Maynez had one son, Mirko, who lives in Italy.

In addition to his son, Maynez is survived by his brothers, Guillermo Maynez of Oxnard and Raul Maynez of Colorado, and a niece, Pearl Thayer of Camarillo.

A service is planned for 9 a.m. Saturday at the San Buenaventura Mission in downtown Ventura. Memorial contributions should be made to a favorite charity.

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