Much Ap-preciated

The Special Legacy Of Lucia Colombi

Appropriately enough, in a metaphoric sense, she was. As she continually demonstrated, her overwhelming and abiding passion was for drama - especially American drama - of the 1940s through the '60s. So it was inevitable that when she began her own Ensemble Theatre in 1979, its early programming would rely heavily on the American plays she felt closest to - focusing on Eugene O'Neill in particular.

Joined by twin sister Licia, Colombi turned Ensemble into a safe haven for once-classic examples of American drama, plays which were then suffering increasing neglect and were doomed soon to fall into disdainful disrepute. Well before more prestigious rep playhouses across the country were - with prideful self-congratulation - reviving the occasional Long Day's Journey Into Night, Ensemble singularly offered the complete cycle of O'Neill Sea Play one-acts, forgotten works that had gained the Nobel Prize author his first recognition.

Despite having to scramble to find venues to exhibit its wares, Ensemble's initial years must have been heady with a youthful sense of accomplishment and a mission that no one else was attempting. That feeling had to have been considerably bolstered when the theater settled in 1985 into a hardly ideal but eminently workable space in the Civic on Mayfield Road, which became its home for nearly two decades.

During this extensive period, Ensemble established itself as a worthy second-senior alternative theater to the ground-breaking Dobama. Matters, however, began to falter with the double blow of Lucia's seriously failing health and the fact that the theater got summarily kicked out of its Civic home at about the same time in 2003. Perhaps unavoidably, Ensemble's guiding sense of mission proceeded to get muddled with inadvisable pandering to "contemporary" programming and hastily cast classics, which on balance resulted in forgivably less than commendable productions.

Personally, Lucia was a bottomless pit of generosity. She could certainly be prickly but as Teddi Bianchi, widow of Dobama founder Don Bianchi testifies, Colombi was the one person who most faithfully continued to inquire after her well-being following the death of husband, who was Lucia's dear friend and theatrical advisor.

Yes, the lady will be remembered and should be. But not for her acting or directing expertise - which, in all candor, were not that exceptional. Her memorial will be the legacy of a passionate infatuation, advocacy and appreciation of an invaluable era of theater history and its engrossingly entertaining and not-to-be-lost exemplars, for which, by sheer dint of her loving, stubborn dedication, Lucia Colombi provided a warmly hospitable showcase for nearly thirty years.