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Bob Keyes

Bob Keyes has written about the arts in Maine since 2002. He’s never been much an artist himself, other than singing in junior high school chorus and acting in a few musicals. But he’s attended museums, theaters, clubs and concert halls all his life, and cites Bob Dylan as most influential artist of any kind since Picasso. He lives in Berwick.

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Posted: July 31, 2017

Venue review: Deertrees Theatre enchants with woodsy charm

Written by: Bob Keyes
Deertrees Theatre in Harrison Staff photos by Jill Brady

Deertrees Theatre in Harrison
Staff photos by Jill Brady

Attending a concert or play at Deertrees Theatre feels like going to camp.

The magical theater with a colorful history is built into the woods above Crystal and Long lakes, along a winding road shaded by a canopy of trees. The theater emerges around a bend, revealing itself as an architectural gem made entirely of wood in an Adirondack style with a massive vaulted roof, an elegant arched entry and all-around woodsy charm.

Deertrees, so named because it was constructed on the site of an old deer run, was built in 1936 and designed for opera and is sweetly nestled atop a hill in a pine grove, above the friendly village of Harrison.

Architect Harrison G. Wiseman’s charge was to “design the most acoustically and technically perfect theater possible” that would rival the finest houses on Broadway. He succeeded, and for the first few years of its existence, until World War II, the theater thrived, attracting many of Broadway’s biggest stars, who came to Maine’s lake country for a relatively relaxing engagement.

Now in its 81st season and listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, Deertrees is still a great place to see a show. With its hand-carved fixtures and relaxed environment, the theater offers an evening of enchantment, no matter what’s on stage.

For this review, we attended a performance of “Indoor/Outdoor,” one of two plays the theater produced this summer. After grabbing a local beer and glass of wine from the all-volunteer Salt Lick Cafe, we enjoyed the show from a reasonably comfortable seat with plenty of leg room. The acoustics were as advertised, and the overall experience was delightful. We especially enjoyed stepping outside at intermission and observing the theater lit at night. Charming doesn’t even begin to describe it.

The 300-seat theater operates only in the summer as a nonprofit organization that schedules a variety of performances in a short performance season. It produces its own plays, hosts classical music concerts and presents a variety of other entertainment, including films.

The audiences are locals, summer residents and visitors from out of state and around the world. It’s the kind of place that people return to, because it’s an authentic, enjoyable and comfortable experience.

Andrew Harris, theater department chairman at the University of Southern Maine, has programmed the season at Deertrees for the past six summers. He and his wife, Carole, the former marketing director at Portland Stage Company, live nearby.

As executive and artistic director, Andrew Harris runs the show. Carole handles the Salt Lick Cafe. She bakes all the Scottish shortbread and orders other treats from Pietree Orchard in Sweden.

Operating as the Deertrees New Repertory Company, Harris and his crew produced two plays this summer, “Last Train to Nibroc” and “Indoor/Outdoor,” each of which gets one more staging before the season’s end. The Sebago/Long Lake Music Festival uses Deertrees as its home, offering chamber music on Tuesday nights into early August.

The challenge is finding the right mix of shows to appeal to different segments of the audience, which is essential to keep the theater open. It’s a difficult building to maintain, and the ticket-selling season is short, Harris said.

He loves his summer job.

“This theater is a step back in time,” he said. “It really is an enchanting environment and such an exciting one to work in.”

Deertrees Theatre

WHERE: 156 Deertrees Road, Harrison
SEATING STYLE: Fixed chairs
REFRESHMENTS: Beer, wine and snacks at the Salt Lick Cafe
PARKING: On site

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