It’s summertime in Madison: The trout, bass and sunfish in Wesserunsett Lake are jumping, the pines and white birch rise high, and, on the western shore, the curtain will go up at Lakewood Theater, this year, for the 118th time.
Lakewood has packed its summertime season with a series of productions for more than a century, serving as summer stock from 1925 to 1941 for productions hoping to land on Broadway. One of the longest running plays on the Great White Way, “Life with Father,” premiered at Lakewood in 1939.
Herbert L. Swett, a Bangor native and Bowdoin College graduate, took over as manager in 1899 and worked to bring a resident company of talent capable of that level of theater, to what was a thriving summer colony. By 1967, the Maine Legislature designated Lakewood Theater the “State Theater of Maine.”
But the venue later fell onto hard times, until the mid-1980s when a nonprofit, which included current owner Jeff Quinn and actress Marti Stevens, took charge to save the building and bring productions back to life. It’s been quite a comeback; this year, audiences can see a new show every two weeks.
“We know that the people in our audience and the people on stage bring a whole lot of life experience that we might not even be aware of,” Stephanie Irwin, who is the theater’s communications chief and directs some plays, said of Lakewood’s commitment to variety.
Jeff and Susan Quinn now own the theater, which includes a restaurant. He is the artistic director and directs nine shows each season; she is the head costumer. Irwin will be directing “Anne of Green Gables,” opening Aug. 30 and running through Sept. 8.
Each season, the Quinns, Irwin and others who work at Lakewood choose crowd-pleasers as well as a show or three a little off the beaten path. “Over the winter, from the end of October till the end of December, we set our season,” Irwin said. “We read the plays out loud, try to see – do they fit the people we expect to come, our audience? And we try to go outside our comfort zone at times.”
That’s evident in this season’s slate. Along with “Green Gables,” this summer features “Women in Jeopardy” (a comedy the theater describes as “Thelma and Louise” meets “The First Wives Club”), which opened Thursday and runs through June 2; “Incorruptible,” June 7-16; “Little Shop of Horrors,” June 21-30; “Jenny’s House of Joy,” July 5-14; Frank McCourt’s “The Irish and How They Got That Way,” July 19-28; “The Legend of Georgia McBride,” Aug. 2-11; “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” Aug. 16-25; and “The Sensuous Senator,” Sept. 13-22.
In addition to all those shows, Lakewood hosts a troupe called the Lakewood Jesters, which performs for area school children each fall. “For most of the students who attend, this is their first live theater experience,” said Irwin, noting that some 3,000 children see a Lakewood show each year. And it’s home to a summer camp that holds three sessions for kids ages 9 to 18, along with school-year workshops through Carrabec High School.
“Kids learn all the basics of theater, plus they’re learning poise and self-control and working as a team, and those things translate to other things in their lives,” Irwin said.
Although it’s not the Broadway feeder it once was, Lakewood has regained its pride of place among veteran actors, who are highly likely to get a role over the summer because the theater chooses its series knowing that there are 80 to 100 local pros who can step up. “We try to cast everybody who comes to auditions,” Irwin said. “These are your neighbors – these are the people that teach your kids or run your service station or sell you your groceries. But these are also people that in another world would be professional actors, and they have tremendous talent to share with their community.”
MORE SUMMER THEATER HIGHLIGHTS
156 Deertrees Road, Harrison, (207) 583-6747. deertrees-theatre.org
At Deertrees, July features a double bill of two one-act comedies each night – “A Betrothal” by Lanford Wilson and “The Universal Language” by David Ives. Later that month and into August, the Victorian-era comedy “Shipwrecked features” a few actors taking on multiple roles. And Deertrees rounds out its season with Jeffrey Hatcher’s adaptation of Henry James: “The Turn of the Screw.” Tickets are $14-$22.
FENIX THEATRE CO.
Deering Oaks and Congress Square, Portland. fenixtheatre.com
This summer, Fenix Theatre. continues its departure from Shakespeare in the Park with a production of Sarah Ruhl’s “Eurydice,” performed in July in Deering Oaks park and at Congress Square. Admission is free and the show will go on even in light rain.
538 School St., Berwick, (207) 698-1807. hackmatack.org
Hackmatack keeps the emphasis on laughter and music this summer with “Lend Me A Tenor” in June, the “Heartbreak Hotel” stylings of Elvis in “All Shook Up” in July, the romantic “Bridges of Madison County” in July and August, and finishing up the summer with “Dial ‘M’ for Murder” through Sept. 1. Tickets are $15-$30, and season passes are available.
THEATER AT MONMOUTH
796 Main St., Monmouth, (207) 933-9999. theateratmonmouth.org
Monmouth has dubbed its season “Roar!” featuring “wily, wicked, and wonderful women through classic literature’s most fantastic females.” Productions include Daniel Elihu’s “Pride@Prejudice” (where Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy’s social life encounters social media), Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” and “Richard III,” Matthew Barber’s tale of a post-World War II ladies’ holiday in Italy “Enchanted April,” the thriller “Dial ‘M’ for Murder,” and a family-friendly production, “The True Story of Little Red,” a reimagining of the traditional fairy tale where Grandma is not so helpless, Red not quite so sweet and the Wolf surprisingly on top. Tickets are $10-$34; season passes and group sales are available.
10 Main St., Ogunquit, (207) 646-5511. ogunquitplayhouse.org
Ogunquit has already launched its summer season of Broadway favorites with “Smokey Joe’s Cafe,” a celebration the songwriting partnership of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who penned hits for the likes of Elvis Presley, Ben E. King, the Coasters and the Drifters. Next up is Roger and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!” and, later in July, “An American in Paris.” The summer wanes with “Grumpy Old Men: The Musical” and finishes up in September and October with “Jersey Boys.” Family-friendly shows include Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty,” “Lion King,” “High School Musical, Jr.” and “Tom Sawyer, the Musical.” Tickets are $52-$110, and season passes and group sales are available.