Pasiones Songs of Spanish Civil War, 14!

Jamie O’Reilly and Michael Smith bring their beloved folk-cabaret to SPACE on Sunday, October 9, and perform a live concert on WFMT’s Folkstage Saturday, December 10, With Katrina O’Reilly-Greene and Bob Weber, cello.

A Note from Jamie.
A great deal has changed in the political and cultural landscape since Pasiones: Songs of the Spanish Civil War made its debut 14 years ago at The Lunar Cabaret, a haven for political and fringe theater artists on Chicago’s Northside.

America has involved itself in three wars, and a severe economic crisis. We are seeing government intrusion into our private lives on the level not seen since the Cold War. In spite of the day-to-day challenge to just stay afloat, it is the artist who bravely “soldiers” on, retaining the right to battle the status quo, name injustices, and look to history for inspiration.

“It is incredible, it is fantastic, it is absolutely beyond all belief… except that it is true..”
Dorothy Parker
in Madrid

And it was the artists and writers F. Garcia Lorca, Pablo Neruda, Paul Robeson, Langston Hughes, Dorothy Parker, Martha Gelhorn, Ernest Hemingway, Ring Lardner, Jr, George Orwell, Joan Miro, and Pablo Picasso, and many others, who brought international attention to the dire situation in Spain in the mid 1930s, when war broke out against the freely elected progressive government.

We know the outcome of the valiant effort. The country fell to the Fascists, led by Francisco Franco.

Eddie Balchowsky

Among the volunteers in the International Brigades from 52 countries who came to the aid of Spain, was pianist Ed Balchowsky, a resident of Frankfort, Il, and member of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, who returned from Spain missing his right arm, which was severed from the elbow down after a grenade exploded in his hand. Eddie would spend the rest of his life struggling to make a living, playing piano in clubs with one hand, mopping floors and painting large canvases. He became a local folk hero, and died in 1989. He is buried at the Forest Home Cemetery, near the monument to the Chicago Haymarket martyrs.

When my brother Beau invited Michael Smith and I to create something for the Rhinoceros Theater Festival in the winter of 1996, Michael suggested we look at the songs of the Spanish Civil War.  Caught-up in the story of Eddie Balchowsky, we created Pasiones with director Peter Glazer, and dedicated it to him.

Researching and performing Pasiones introduced us to more of the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigades: our dear friend Charles Hall, Emanuel Hochberg, John Rossen, Paul Lutka and Dr. Aaron Hilkevitch, all no longer with us. And we met the families and friends of the Vets, including Mimi Harris (wife of the late Syd Harris), the Robert Klonsky family, Peter Carroll, filmmaker Julia Newman, and many spirited folks, on both coasts, who memorialize the “Lincolns” annually at ALBA reunions in the Bay area and New York City. Read about ALBA:

“It is more than glorious music they offer us; it is our history that would otherwise be forgotten. At a time when passion is so lacking in our lives, these two artists set our hearts on fire! Viva Jamie and Michael!” (-Studs Terkel)

Pasiones shared the stage more than a few times with our dear friend, the late Studs Terkel, who really loved the show.  One of his favorite songs “Freiheit” is performed with a stirring lead vocal by Michael. A  favorite poem: “Questions From A Worker Who Reads”, by Bertolt Brecht, makes an appearance as well.

The last Chicago area SCW Veteran, esteemed Psychiatrist Aaron Hilkevitch, passed away several years ago at his home in Hyde Park, marking the last funeral we would sing to the heroes in the war against Franco.  I traveled to Spain in 2008, and visited war memorials and battlegrounds with members of the “Amigos,” for whom the history is still fresh.  In 2009, Women’s Media Group and Facets Multimedia hosted a screening of Julia Newman’s award-winning film documentary Into the Fire: American Women in the Spanish Civil War.  Songs from Pasiones appear in the film.

2011 Anniversary
With the recent discovery of the “Mexican Suitcase” – lost war photos by Robert Capa and others, the unearthing of the mass grave where F. Garcia Lorca is buried, and other international news, the Spanish Civil War legacy remains in the headlines.  Remarkable men and women from 50 countries, knowing something very grim was on the horizon, bravely went to Spain anyway. They fought “the good fight” against fascism and repression, and with Pasiones, we honor their stories.


It is fitting that as October marks the 75th Anniversary of the International Brigades coming to the aid of Spain, portoluz chose Pasiones as one of their programs that “explore the Great Depression of 1929, the WPA and role of the cultural worker, and the current recession”.

What’s in the show?
Written with input from Spanish Civil War heroes and historians, Pasiones includes 20 stirring songs, sung in 6 languages, accompanied by the images of the war and the posters of the era. The cabaret weaves the poetry of Lorca and Hemingway, and reminiscences of war survivors, and captures the fervor of the gatherings during the Worker’s Movement of the 1930s, and the folksongs of Spain. These timeless international songs and anthems – the “people’s music” – sung in coffeehouses and marches of the 1960’s are still heard in gatherings to this day.

Pasiones spotlights a powerful period in human history and honors the stories of the International Brigades (many told to us first-hand), some who lost their lives, others who lived to spend a lifetime working for justice, all of whom are no longer with us. Fourteen years since its Chicago theater debut, Pasiones remains an inspiration to Michael, Katrina and me, and a powerful piece to perform. We are pleased to have cellist Bob Weber playing with us.

READ MORE about Pasiones here, with photos of Jamie’s trip to Spain:

photo by Meg O'Reilly Amandes


“‘Pasiones features internationally acclaimed musicians Michael Smith and Jamie O’Reilly who reconnoiter the intricate Iberian rhythms with such closely fused harmony and razor clear enunciation as to seem a single voice.”  (-Critic’s Choice, Chicago Reader, premiere 1997)


Pasiones live


portoluz , WPA 2.0, a brand new deal:
a multi-disciplinary instigation

Pasiones: Songs of the Spanish Civil War
A Folk Cabaret
Featuring Jamie O’Reilly & Michael Smith
With Bob Weber, Cello
Katrina O’Reilly-Greene, Piano, Vocals, Clarinet
Followed by Las Guitarras de Espana ensemble at 315 PM

Sunday, October 9 2 PM – 5 PM
SPACE 1245 Chicago, Evanston, IL
Tickets are $22 PH 847.492.8860

Visual Design by Peter Glazer with the
Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives and Jamie O’Reilly


Pasiones is a Production of J. O’Reilly Productions, Chicago
The original production was directed by Peter Glazer
© 1997 Bird Avenue Publishing




  1. If I have a cat sitter? I’m flying up. Unless you all can bring it to Ricefest, Austin, or environs.

  2. I’m so looking forward to this performance – I saw it years ago, and it’ll be great to see it again, and to remember the last one.

    I enjoyed reading this, and remembering. I knew Sydney Harris and Eddie Balchowsky and very much admired Eddie and loved his work – this photo captures him so well. They were both splendid people, and it’s good to be reminded of them – I haven’t thought of either of them in quite a long time.

    Jamie and Michael, you are SOOOO good. Thank you for being there and doing this.

    Now is a time we need imaginative courage,and all the inspiration we can get, and I know I’ll get a burst of that on Sunday.

    Thank you.


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