Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

June 24, 2021

REVIEW: Barrington Stage Company, Chester Bailey

Barrington Stage Company, Boyd-Quinson Stage, Pittsfield, MA
through July 3, 2021
by Jarice Hanson
Photo by David Dashiell

It is 1945 and Chester Bailey is a 23 year old victim of a violent act of brutality.  Though not expected to survive more than a day, he eventually finds himself living in the Walt Whitman Hospital, state mental facility on Long Island. The problems of the residents are so severe there is no doubt that the best anyone can hope for is a gentle transition from the hospital to the cemetery that abuts the hospital. Dr. Philip Cotton is the doctor assigned to help Chester understand that he has experienced a devastating trauma as brutal as the war that is being waged beyond the hospital walls. What confounds the staff is that Chester seems to be unaware of his injuries. He remains optimistic, despite a prognosis that would crush (and does destroy) people who cannot muster the attitude of survival that he embodies.
This beautifully crafted story by Emmy-Award Winning author Joseph Dougherty unfolds with parallel stories of Chester, played by Ephraim Birney, and Dr. Cotton, played by his real-life father, the award-winning Broadway, film, and television star, Reed Birney. Both men inhabit their characters fully and create unforgettable characters who deal with issues of illusion and delusion, reality, desire, and hope. 

Reed Birney projects empathy and intellectual gravitas in every role he plays, and young Ephraim Birney is a talent to watch. The physicality and emotional depth he gives to Chester Bailey imbues a tragic story with an unexpected kindness and optimism that allows the audience to leave the theater feeling transformed and challenged to confront their own delusions and beliefs.
Director Ron Lagomarsino masterfully moves these two characters through time on a set designed by Beuwulf Boritt that suggests an eternal dance between reality and pseudo-reality. Sound Designer Brendan Aanes and Lighting Designer Peter Koczorowski equally work their magic to suggest the contrasts between institutions that bring to mind both hospitals and the confinement of the problems of the real world in the microcosm of both Pennsylvania Station and the wartime Brooklyn Naval Yard. 
In this theatrical masterpiece, Barrington Stage reminds us that live theater is transformative and uplifting. The brilliant casting of father and son in this powerful story about compassion and mercy reaffirms the human spirit to triumph over what we cannot control, and in so doing, provides a parable for post-pandemic hope and survival. This is an unforgettable story, brought to the stage by brilliant actors and magicians of the theater.