Last night—yet again—I broke that rule that I claim to have about never leaving Oxford County and went to Deertrees Theatre in Harrison to see a play. (To be honest, I break that rule fairly often lately, although I do try to do as much of my shopping, eating, and gadding about locally as I can. And if you look at a map of Maine, it’s easy to make the argument that the towns of Bridgton and Harrison, being located in a funny-shaped little part of Cumberland County that protrudes into Oxford County, should really be in Oxford County anyway. So I didn’t have to stray far from Oxford County, and only about 32 miles from camp, to get there.)
It was my second trip to Deertrees this summer, and only my third ever. We had “discovered” the place last summer, after a writer friend mentioned that the play “A Couple of Blaguards” was being performed there on August first, Will and Tony’s birthday, and was well worth seeing. We packed up some sandwiches and went to see it.
We loved the play and got completely hooked on the funky little theatre, where you can picnic on the grounds before a performance, view an art exhibit in the gallery behind the stage, and buy a treat at intermission from the Salt Lick Cafe.
This year, we bought a “Vallee Pass,” which allowed us to purchase six tickets at a discounted price, to be used any way we wanted during the course of the season. We saw the terrific Boston-based Beatles tribute band, Beatles for Sale—Deertrees’ most popular event of the summer—last month, and “The Grand O’Neal,” written by Maine playwright and actor David Butler, last night. Both were wonderful performances, professionally produced, but with the added bonus of the opportunity for connections with the performers and theatre staff you just wouldn’t find in a larger venue.
If you’ve never been to this gem of a theatre in the middle of the woods, you don’t know what you’re missing. It has quirky Adirondack-style architecture, a complete lack of pretension, and more history than you’ll be able to absorb in just one visit.
Commissioned and built in 1936 by Harrison summer resident Enrica Clay Dillon as a 350-seat opera house with near-perfect acoustics, it hosted operas, plays, and concerts for several decades before being abandoned in the 1980s and falling into disrepair and foreclosure. It was in danger of being burned as a training exercise for the local fire department when a group of concerned citizens joined forces to try to save it.
Extensive repairs and restoration allowed it to reopen, and it has operated as a non-profit for the past two decades, with an efficient if overworked staff of four paid employees and some dedicated volunteers.
Artistic and Executive Director Andrew Harris wanders around the grounds before performances, greeting patrons, searching out first-timers, and launching into a brief history of the place. He welcomes the audience at the start of each show, and this season he also appeared onstage as part of the Deertrees New Repertory Company.
All of the employees and volunteers are just as helpful, friendly, and obviously passionate about the place, and it’s easy to see why. Deertrees really is, as they’re quick to remind you, “Maine’s most enchanting playhouse.”
There are just a couple more performances left in Deertrees’ short summer season. If you can’t make it to one this year, make plans now to get there next summer, and visit the theatre’s website, www.deertrees-theatre.org.