By Kathleen Dunbar
It was a beautiful sunny Sunday afternoon on March 12, but that did not stop about 30 patrons
from visiting the Eastport Arts Center to watch a dramatized reading of The Last Priest. Originally planned by the Lubec Campobello Community Theatre for a 2020 Sunday series presentation, the performance had a long postponement due to Covid.
Written in 2008 by David Walter Hall, the play tells the story of real life Catholic priest Jean
Meslier in 1700s rural France. He wrote, heretically, a 700-page treatise, his testament, blaspheming God and all religion, denying the rights of the king and state, anticipating socialism and the enlightenment.
The play deals with his relationships with his housekeeper and priest friend, as well as his personal struggles. The script was enlivened by a variety of “fantasy” scenes featuring Voltaire, Madame de Pompadour, an executioner, and a direct conversation with the audience. There were also moments of subtle humor that elicited chuckles from the audience.
The play was a dramatized reading, meaning that the actors had scripts but were moving
around on stage in costume with a minimal set and props, as opposed to just sitting and reading. They moved around so seamlessly that it was easy to forget that they had scripts at all.
The cast consisted of well-known local thespians, Peter Frewen as Jean Meslier, Brian Schuth
as Claude his friend, Jenie M. Smith as Delphine the housekeeper, and Barbara Smith as Madame
De Pompadour. Voltaire and the Executioner were portrayed by director Sarah Dalton-Phillips and
producer Helen Swallow, as cast member Suzannah Gale was unable to attend the performance.
The rest of the crew consisted of Bernie Cecire running the lights and sound, Chris Grannis providing stage and costume assistance, Lauren Koss doing publicity, and Meg Colbert creating the program.
The cast did a great job bringing their passionate performances to life, and the play was well received by the audience.
Jon Bragdon, an EAC Board member, added some footnotes at the end of the performance.
One interesting fact that he shared was that Meslier’s testament was not published in his
native French language until about 150 years after his death. He also noted that it was not
published in English until 2009, and that the play has been rarely staged outside of the British Isles.