An Interview with Actor Dan Clegg of Chester Bailey

By Shannon Stockwell

Marisa Duchowny (left) and Dan Clegg in A.C.T.'s
M.F.A. Program production of Once in a Lifetime 
in 2010. Photo by Kevin Berne. 
We are thrilled to welcome actor Dan Clegg back to A.C.T., where he will play the titular role in Joseph Dougherty’s Chester Bailey, premiering at A.C.T.’s Strand Theater on May 25. Clegg graduated from the A.C.T. M.F.A. Program in 2011, and he’s delighted to return and have the opportunity to portray this multifaceted and inspiring character. “The first time I read Chester Bailey, I just loved it,” says Clegg. “I thought the writing was excellent, and Chester Bailey is such a great role. The play really stayed with me.”

Just after Clegg got out of rehearsal, we spoke to him about his work on Chester Bailey and the challenging questions the play poses. 

How have rehearsals been going?

Rehearsals have been going well. We had a number of readings before we started, and David [Strathairn] and I had both done a lot of prep work, so we hit the ground running. We’ve got the basic shape of the play down. Now we’re experimenting and exploring.

Why do you think the play stuck with you?

It’s so beautifully written. When reading the play, I’m struck by the number of insightful comments about universal truths that are made in such poetic ways. Also, Joe’s written two great characters. Chester and Dr. Cotton have a complex relationship. The play is a great balance between two actors. It’s short, but the audience is taken to all sorts of different places. And the story is so moving and intense and reveals itself in a very compelling way.

What do you think this play says about the imagination?

When I tell my friends that I’m in this play, they ask, “What’s it about?” And I say, “I play this guy named Chester Bailey; he gets blinded by an oxyacetylene torch and he loses his eyes and an ear and his hands and he goes to a hospital, and he still believes he can see, so he’s sent to a mental hospital on Long Island, and then, believe it or not, things go from bad to worse.” [Laughs]

But despite that, the play is beautiful. Chester fights against those circumstances. He literally refuses to go to the dark place and heads toward the light. The strength with which he holds on to this reality he’s imagined for himself, and how he stitches it together and he justifies it—it’s inspiring.

It’s true; Chester’s delusion is a defense against reality. But would taking away his delusion be saving him or condemning him? His reality is that he’s lost his eyes and hands and whole family and he’s now stuck in a mental institution. By making him understand that reality, what are you really giving him?

What is imagination? What is its role? Chester Bailey wedges itself into the heart of this debate and challenges each point of view. That’s why the play stays with you.


Chester Bailey runs May 25 through June 12 at A.C.T.’s Strand Theater. Click here to purchase tickets!

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