Winifred O'Reilly: the mother of them all | Bleader

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Winifred O'Reilly: the mother of them all

Posted By on 03.15.12 at 04:00 PM

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Winifred OReilly, still smiling after 14 kids
  • Winifred O'Reilly, still smiling after 14 kids
Thirteen years ago, the New Yorker published what turned out to be a famous article by Malcolm Gladwell called "Six Degrees of Lois Weisberg." It wasn't really about Weisberg—Chicago's former cultural commissioner, currently selling exotic fruit in Florida—but it dwelt on her as a great example of a connector: somebody with a special gift for bringing together loads of people.

Winifred O'Reilly is a connector, too—only she went about it the old-fashioned way, by having and raising 14 children. You read that right.

A onetime singer, Winifred (nee Giebel) married actor James O'Reilly and founded a dynasty that includes some of the most interesting and valued members of Chicago's fringe community. Her fifth kid, Beau, is especially famous as a founder of the sui generis band Maestro Subgum and the Whole, its theatrical off-shoot the Curious Theatre Branch, and the annual fringe extravaganza known as Rhinofest. Beau's sons Colm O'Reilly and Rory Jobst are making their bohemian presences felt here, too—the former as a member of Theater Oobleck, the latter as a playwright. Add in the performing families with which the O'Reillies are allied by marriage and/or affinity—the Amandeses (Tom and Paul) and the Magnuses (Jenny and Bryn), for example—and you start getting a sense of just how far this commonwealth of creativity extends.

Winifred is 87 now. She had what Beau calls a "heart incident" last summer, and though still "tough" and "wide awake," requires constant in-home care. Never money-rich, the O'Reillies are using such capital as they have to get her what she needs: they're putting on a benefit featuring performances by three family-affiliated bands, Midnight Moxie, the Crooked Mouth, and—most enticing—the Rogues, fronted by Beau's sister Jamie and called by Reader critic Monica Kendrick "probably one of the best Irish ensembles Chicago ever produced."

It all happens Sunday, March 18, 5 PM, at Prop Thtr, 3502 N. Elston. Tickets are $20 or pay what you can; they're available at Brown Paper Tickets and 773-508-0666.

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