When the reality of one's situation is too much to bear, a lively imagination can provide comfort.
That's what's happening in "Chester Bailey," Joseph Dougherty's gripping drama being given its world premiere by American Conservatory Theater.
It's 1945 on Long Island. The title character, engagingly played by Dan Clegg, is a young man whose father helped him escape the draft and World War II by getting him a job in a naval shipyard.
An unprovoked attack by a crazed co-worker has left him totally blind and partially deaf in addition to burning his hands so badly that they had to be amputated. However, he refuses to acknowledge his losses. He believes he can see and can use his hands.
He winds up in a mental hospital where he's seen by a psychiatrist, Dr. Philip Cotton (David Strathairn), who gently tries to make him aware of his situation.
In the meantime, Philip has own problems with the breakup of his marriage and his furtive affair with the wife of his boss.
During the course of the play, which runs about an hour and 35 minutes without intermission, Philip must try to determine whether it would be better to allow Chester his illusion or to steer him into the harsh reality of his losses.
Directed by Ron Lagomarsino, both actors are outstanding in the monologues that open the play as well as the interaction of their characters.
Lighting by Robert Hand heightens the drama, aided by Nina Ball's set, Brendan Aanes' sound and Jessie Amoroso's costumes.
It's too bad that the play is running only three weeks because it's so powerful. One can only hope that other companies will pick it up.
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