Easthampton actor and playwright Jay Sefton performs a scene from “Unreconciled,” his autobiographical one-man show about surviving abuse by a priest.
Reminder Publishing photo by Amy Porter

CHESTER — The Chester Theatre Company will present the world premiere of “Unreconciled,” July 4-14 on stage in the historical Chester Town Hall, 15 Middlefield Rd.

Co-written by Jay Sefton and Mark Basquill and directed by James Barry, co-producing artistic director of Chester Theatre with Tara Franklin, “Unreconciled” is the true story of an adolescent actor cast as Jesus in a play directed by a pedophile priest, and the survivor’s journey that follows. Sefton, whose personal story it is, performs each role.

An earlier version of this powerful play debuted as a mid-season workshop production to a packed audience during Chester Theatre’s 2023 season.

Sefton is an Easthampton-based actor, playwright and therapist. The story he wrote and stars in begins with his being selected to play Jesus in a Passion Play in Philadelphia in the 1980s under the direction of an abusive pedophile priest, to his years as a struggling actor in Los Angeles, to a law office in Manhattan in 2018, where he eventually turns down the victim’s compensation offered by the church in exchange for his silence.

As Sefton described it, “Unreconciled” is about the journey from finding one’s voice to then using it to save oneself.

During his years in L.A., Sefton started to confront his past and the church after a 2005 grand jury report, on the heels of the 2002 Boston Spotlight case, examined abuse by Catholic priests the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, listing the names of accused priests, including the one who abused him. In 2007, Sefton called the victim’s compensation fund set up by the archdiocese, which offered to pay for his private therapy.

Twelve years later, in 2018, he applied to the Independent Reconciliation and Reparations Program set up by the archdiocese, which offered money to victims that Sefton called “pennies on the dollar” of what a court settlement would be, if the victims signed a waiver and gave up their right to sue. He had a year to submit the claim.

“It felt like more stalling; the Catholic Church covering themselves,” Sefton said. Eventually he said no to the offer. He then wrote an opinion piece that ran in a Philadelphia newspaper, titled, “They Normalized a Culture of Child Rape and Then Asked Us to Sign Away Our Rights.” His article was shared among the community of victims, and other survivors started to reach out to him.

Sefton co-wrote “Unreconciled” with Mark Basquill, another survivor, whom he met for the first time in person at the workshop production in Chester in 2023.

For this season’s world premiere of the finished product, the show will have the full weight of a design team.
“Everything that we’ve done so far has been a stripped-down version. This will be the first time it will have all of the design elements, and we’ll have a set built for the show,” Sefton said.

“I’m honored to continue my collaboration with Jay Sefton on this extraordinary play. His unflinching performance is a tour-de-force, brimming with heart, humor, compassion and bravery,” said Barry.

“The subject matter is quite serious, pretty heavy and emotional, and also really funny,” Barry said at the show’s workshop debut in 2023.

Barry also talked about Sefton’s virtuosity in the 75-minute play.

“He steps into 12 characters from his whole life. It’s utterly riveting, and so theatrical. It’s a story that needs to be told about political and religious injustices, that exists on its own as a riveting and engaging theatrical event,” Barry said.

Sefton said it’s been an extraordinary year for the play.

“Last year, I was putting the finishing touches on memorizing the show for the first time for a workshop mid-season event, to a full run in the Chester Theatre season — I certainly didn’t anticipate that,” he said.

After the world premiere in Chester, the play will go to Ireland for an arts festival in Belfast in August. Sefton recently performed workshop productions in Albany and in Provincetown, and will have two performances at the New York Irish Center in Queens at the end of September.

“I am so thrilled and grateful that Tara, James, and Chester Theatre Company, who have been supporting ‘Unreconciled’ from the beginning, and will be giving the play its world premiere,” Sefton said. “The response from the people that have seen it has been humbling and overwhelming — that is something that I could not have foreseen. There’s no way of knowing until you go out and do it,” he added.

Showtimes for July 4-14 are 2 p.m. for matinees on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays, and 7:30 p.m. for evening performances on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Talkbacks follow Thursday and Friday matinees. Cast conversations follow the second Friday evening performance. Panel discussions featuring outside experts take place after the first Sunday matinee of each play.

Individual tickets are $55. Chester residents, members of the military and their families, ConnectorCare enrollees and those holding EBT or SNAP cards may purchase discounted tickets at the door or by calling the box office. Student rush $10 tickets are available day of show. Single tickets, season subscriptions, and flex passes may be purchased online at chestertheatre.org, or by phone at 413-354-7771. Special rates for groups of 10 or more are available.

For more information, call Chester Theatre Company at 413-354-7770 or visit chestertheatre.org.