Theater people usually are too busy working on the next show to reflect on the past. That certainly is true of Tony and Susan Reilly, who operate the American Irish Repertory Ensemble.

On Thursday, AIRE opens a production of “Da,” a Tony Award-winning comedy by Hugh Leonard. This is the last offering of AIRE’s 10th season, a milestone not lost on the couple.

“The way theater companies tend to come and go, we believe that’s no small accomplishment,” Susan Reilly said. “We’re extremely proud that we’ve managed to make a go of it.”

AIRE has been presenting shows continuously in Portland longer than most other theater companies. Only Portland Stage, Mad Horse and Good Theater have been around longer.

The husband-and-wife team, who often act in their own shows, moved up to Maine from New York to start AIRE. They had done theater in New York, but wanted their own company in an East Coast city with an Irish heritage and a vibrant theater community.

They scouted a few cities, and liked the vibe of Portland. They came up for a few days, saw three shows and went home impressed. They moved here in 2003, and operate the company from their home in South Portland.


In 10 years, AIRE has presented 20 shows and established itself as a theater company that does good work with a range of material. “I would hold AIRE up with anyone in town,” said Tony Reilly, who often directs the shows. “Actors want to work with us, and that’s the highest compliment you can get.”

“Da,” on stage through April 5 at the Studio Theater at Portland Stage Company, features one of AIRE’s largest casts. In addition to the Reillys, the show features Thomas Ian Campbell, Christopher Holt, Paul Haley, Patricia Mew, Marie Stewart and Eric Worthley.

Tony Reilly co-directs the show with Michael Howard.

Leonard reflected on some events in own life when writing the play. Da is in Irish term for father, and this show is about a middle-age playwright who returns to his Irish home to bury his dad and come to terms with their difficult relationship.

It’s a funny play, with moments of sensitivity.

After the funeral, the playwright, who has moved to England to get away from his family, returns to the family home and is haunted by memories of his parents and other mentors in his life, and relives moments from the past.


“Da” opened Off-Broadway in 1978, moved to Broadway that same season and ran nearly 700 performances. It won a Tony Award, Drama Desk and New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for best play.

Susan Reilly said AIRE has wanted to stage this play for a long time, but resisted because of the size of the cast. It seemed appropriate to mount a big show to cap the 10th anniversary season.

“Sometimes you have to do it, even if it stretches your resources a bit,” she said. “You have to do it because it’s a great play and people want to see it. There are a handful of plays that are seminal. This is one of them.”

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: pphbkeyes

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