It was an offer she could not refuse.

When the Shakespeare Theatre Company calls, you listen. Dawn McAndrews listened, and jumped at the chance to move to Washington, D.C., to work for one of the most storied theater companies in the United States.

But almost right away, she pined for Maine.

“I was there for eight years. But after two, (husband) Jim and I realized we wanted to come back,” said McAndrews.

So she’s finally back, living in Harpswell with her family and working as producing artistic director at the Theater at Monmouth.

Before leaving for D.C. in 1999, McAndrews worked as director of education and outreach at Portland Stage Company, and before that as director of training at the Maine Summer Dramatic Institute in Portland.

Although she began her duties at Monmouth last year, McAndrews launches her first season at the company’s helm this summer. She replaces David Greenham, who ran the theater for many years.

McAndrews has put together a summer season of classics. The two Shakespeare plays on the docket are “Two Gentlemen of Verona” and “Henry IV, Part I.” But the non-Bard titles are most enticing: The Moliere comedy “Tartuffe” and “The Glass Menagerie” by the great American playwright Tennessee Williams. The season begins July 6.

“David really mined the 20th-century comedy, from ‘Room Service’ to ‘Blithe Spirit’ to things like ‘The Mousetrap.’ I want to revisit the great American classics,” McAndrews said. “We’re doing ‘Glass Menagerie’ this summer, and next year, we plan to do a very special version of ‘Our Town.’ “

Concerning “Our Town,” next year marks the 75th anniversary of the Thornton Wilder classic. McAndrews plans a town-wide celebration around the play, which Wilder wrote in New Hampshire and based on a classic New England town.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. First things first — and first up is this summer.

The company of actors arrives beginning next week. They will stay through August, turning this lake-country town into a theatrical hotbed that is known around the country for the quality of its productions.

It remains one of the very few theaters in all of America that produces a summer season in repertory, meaning that all fours shows are up at once. Each week brings a new opening, with resident actors shifting roles from one show to the next, sometimes in a matter of hours and never more than a matter of days.

Under Greenham’s direction, Monmouth earned a reputation among actors as the place to come for the best training possible. You get Shakespeare here, some classic American plays, comedies — the gamut.

That the shows are produced in the historic and beautiful Cumston Hall only adds to the allure. Performing here is nothing short of a privilege.

McAndrews fully grasps her task.

“I am inheriting a very well-known theater,” she said. “I’m certainly not surprised by that, but I am surprised by the reach of this theater. It occupies a rare niche in the national theater community, and is very well known around the country. I get a number of resumes from people who say, ‘My professor says this is the theater I need to work at this summer.’ “

Because of its reputation, McAndrews is able to choose the best candidates to fill company ranks. Many young actors return several summers in a row, and the newcomers and returnees are complemented by local and regional actors who came to Maine for the chance to work at Monmouth and stayed because of their ability to make their lives in theater here.

Increasingly, Monmouth is expanding its work beyond the summer season. This spring, it’s touring two educational shows to help Maine schools satisfy curriculum goals. One is geared toward elementary students; the other to middle schoolers.

It also has developed the Write On! playwrighting project for middle and high school students, which integrates playwriting as a way to enhance creative expression and communication skills.

In addition, the theater produces a family show each year. This year it is “The Little Prince,” and the fall show is “Of Thee I Sing,” written by George and Ira Gershwin and inspired by Gilbert and Sullivan. “Of Thee I Sing,” opening Sept. 20, will offer a satirical look at the presidency, making it a timely choice for the election season.

And this winter, for the first time in a long time, Monmouth will host a mainstage holiday show, “This Wonderful Life,” a one-person adaptation of “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

For McAndrews, the long road back to Maine began in D.C. and wound to St. Louis, where she worked as artistic director of the Shakespeare Festival St. Louis for two years, and then back to Washington for a job as festival director at VSA, the International Organization on Arts and Disability.

Her qualifications are impeccable. As is the case with a lot of folks, McAndrews spent a long time trying to get back to Maine. She finally made it, and for a job perfectly suited to her skills and interests.

 

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or:

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Twitter: ppbkeyes