Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

Chester Bailey
American Conservatory Theater
Review by Richard Connema | Season Schedule

Also see Richard's reviews of For Peter Pan on Her 70th Birthday and Present Laughter and Eddie's review of Lightning in the Brain

David Strathairn and Dan Clegg
Photo by Kevin Berne
American Conservatory Theater is presenting the world premiere production of Joseph Dougherty's dazzling Chester Bailey at the Strand Theatre. This 95-minute drama is performed by two amazing actors, David Strathairn and Dan Clegg, who give vivid performances. I was spellbound by their presentation of this tale of a young man named Chester Bailey.

The story takes place in 1945 in a military hospital on Long Island. A young man named Chester Bailey (Dan Clegg) is suffering from an injury due to a welding accident at the Long Island shipyards. He has received devastating damage to his face and hands, making him blind and with no hands. But he still sees himself as a man who can see with hands to pick up things. He makes his imagination a safe haven even as he weaves a vivid fantasy about a beautiful girl from his past who comes to his room.

Dr. Cotton (David Strathairn) has been called in to help heal this unusual patient. The doctor is wounded by his disappointments in life and love and wonders how he can pierce the bubble of Chester's illusion without leading back to a reality of pain and loss. Eventually, he is forced to make an ethical decision that is insightful and wonderful.

Chester Bailey is a convincing account of remorse, longing, and the deceptions we tell ourselves. It's a lyrical dream about recollection and imagination in the midst of tragedy. The two-person drama is profound but unsentimental and will keep you interested with surprises that I won't divulge.

Oscar nominee David Strathairn gives an outstanding performance as the reserved Dr. Cotton. He shares many intimate details about this own life with the audience, such as his affair with a woman named Clair in various motels in the area. He is also spirited, droll and self-critical, as is the doctor.

Dan Clegg gives a magnificent performance as Chester. He brings enthusiasm for life through this blind, disfigured, handless person and is pitch perfect with his Long Island accent. It's a brilliant tour de force of acting.

Nina Ball's set is a fine hospital setting with glazed window skylights in blue and purple overhead. There is a sole hospital bed and on the opposite side of the stage a wooden desk. Robert Hand's shifting lights reminded me of a film noir set. Robert Lagomarsino beautifully directs this drama, and each scene is a skillful perceptive.

Bottom line, Chester Baileyis a thought-provoking, clever, heart-warming drama performed by two superb actors.

Chester Bailey plays through June 12, 2016, at A.C.T.'s Strand Theatre, 1127 Market Street, San Francisco. For tickets call 415-749-2228 or visit

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