For more than a decade, Susan Reilly entertained theatergoers in Portland and helped broaden and diversify the performing arts community in southern Maine.

Reilly, a local actor and co-founder of Portland’s American Irish Repertory Ensemble, was killed Tuesday in an automobile collision in Charlton, Massachusetts. She was 64.

Tony Reilly, her husband, a fellow actor and theater company co-founder, was severely injured in the crash and has been placed into an induced coma to help him recover, family friends said Wednesday. He was driving their car when the crash occurred and has lost one and possibly both of his legs, they said.

Friends and colleagues said members of the local theater community are devastated by news of the fatal crash and were doing their best to console each other on a tragic Christmas Eve.

“They’ve just been great friends and great cohorts,” said Anita Stewart, executive and artistic director of Portland Stage Company in Portland. “The entire theater community is just reeling.”

Massachusetts State Police said the South Portland couple was involved in a multi-vehicle crash on the Massachusetts Turnpike that occurred at about 1:40 p.m. Tuesday in the westbound lanes of Interstate 90 in Charlton, according to the Associated Press.

Police said that as traffic was slowing to a stop, three vehicles in the right lane, a tractor-trailer, an SUV and the car Tony Reilly was driving with Susan Reilly as a passenger, crashed. A second tractor-trailer from the middle lane then struck the car the couple was in.

After Susan Reilly was freed from the vehicle, she was taken to a Worcester hospital and pronounced dead, while her husband was hospitalized with life-threatening injuries, police said.

The couple was driving to New York to spend Christmas at the home of Susan Reilly’s sister, said the Rev. David Butler, a fellow actor and close family friend.

“It’s just a devastating day,” said Butler, senior minister at First Parish Church in Gorham and a longtime local theater actor.

Tony and Susan Reilly had no children, he said, but their large, extended family includes “a lot of nieces and nephews and brothers and sisters.”

Butler described Susan Reilly as a wonderful actor who worked hard at her craft and was always fun to be around.

“She was just a very warm, engaging, gregarious person,” he said.

The couple moved to Maine from New York in 2003 to found the Irish theater company, commonly referred to by its acronym, AIRE.

The company completed its 10th season last spring, capping it off with a production of the Tony Award-winning comedy “Da” by Hugh Leonard.

Da is an Irish term for father, and the 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.

Its most recent production, “A Celtic Christmas,” featuring dancers from the Stillson School of Irish Dance in Portland, had its final performance Sunday.

In March, Susan Reilly told the Press Herald she was elated that AIRE was celebrating its 10th anniversary.

“The way theater companies tend to come and go, we believe that’s no small accomplishment,” she 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.

Brian Allen, executive and artistic director of Good Theater in Portland, said Susan Reilly’s death puts the future of AIRE in serious doubt.

“They were definitely a team,” Allen said, adding that they were both theater colleagues and close friends. “They’ve been married a long time – they’re an incredible couple.”

AIRE provided a lot of work to actors in the area over the years, he said. “It’s just such a loss on so many levels.”

Portland actor Daniel Noel, who has collaborated frequently with the Reillys, said he struggled to get through Wednesday’s final performance of “A Christmas Carol” at Portland Stage knowing that one of his friends had just died and the other had been severely injured.

“It was just a shock,” he said after the performance. “I personally am devastated.”

Noel said that when a pipe burst in his home, flooding the house and ruining everything he owned, the Reillys immediately came to his aid, helping to organize a benefit to raise much-needed cash.

“They have been so amazing in my life here in Portland,” he said.

Sitting at his desk on Wednesday, Portland Stage Production Manager Andrew Harris was visibly shaken. Harris said the couple had been at the theater cleaning up and repainting following Sunday’s final performance of “A Celtic Christmas,” which was performed in Portland Stage’s Studio Theater.

“They were literally just here,” he said. “They were pleased with the performance. They dropped off a bottle of Irish whiskey on my desk.”

J. Craig Anderson can be contacted at 207-791-6390 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: jcraiganderson

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