Directed by Katrin Hilbe
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
The life and times of the notorious Roy Cohn have been chronicled in fiction and non-fiction and perhaps most notable in Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America” where Ethel Rosenberg “appears” at Cohn’s deathbed in a series of over-the-top conversations about her trial and execution. In a 2006 article in “The New York Times,” Adam Liptak wrote, “Mr. Kushner said he did not use historical figures for instruction or verisimilitude. ‘There is a power that you access that doesn’t have to do with credibility but with a shared understanding,’ he said, adding that there was a transgressive thrill to it, too.”
Playwright Joan Beber seems to enjoy that same “transgressive thrill” in her “In Bed With Roy Cohn” currently running at the Lion Theatre on Theatre Row through October 3, 2015. Her play – which has been produced since 2012 – does not address the same issues as “Angels in America” and is rather a more comedic look at the iconic character and is staged with the fractured finesse of a fairy tale mingled with the somewhat hallucinatory trappings of an extended dream ballet. This is a good thing and meets with limited success.
Christopher Daftsios is a convincing and very funny Roy Cohn. If only Ms. Beber had given the actor the expansive vocabulary of the real Roy. There are additional solid performances by Serge Thony who portrays Roy’s lover with a mixture of passionate charm and sincere disinterest. Broadway veteran Marilyn Sokol does a successful turn as Roy’s mother Dora and one wishes the playwright had given the actor a bit more to work with. Perhaps the best performance is that of newcomer Andy Reinhardt who exercises the craft he practiced at the Actors Theatre of Louisville’s Acting Apprentice Program. Mr. Reinhardt is a convincing and affable young Roy Cohn who shadows his elder self with curiosity mixed with remorse.
The remainder of the cast delivers serviceable performances, again doing the best they can with the character development they are given by the playwright and the rather free reign given by director Katrin Hilbe. Rebeca Fong could have used more solid direction in her role as Roy Cohn’s housekeeper. Most of her scenes as Lisette seem extraneous and repetitive. Lee Roy Rogers’ performance as Barbara Walters could have been stronger and, again, the issue might be one of weak direction. And Ian Gould is a wonderfully mocking Julius Rosenberg who uses his return to Roy’s side to badger the prosecutor mercilessly. If the entire theater is going to be a playing area and a back stage and a props storage area, the director must give exacting and careful direction to the ensemble cast so they do not appear sometimes to be ambling about with no direction home.
The character of Barbara Walters is quite important however, and it is this characters soliloquies (delivered quite nicely by Ms. Rogers) that provide what might be the point of the play. When all else fails, give the title a try! Ms. Walters repeatedly addresses the rest of the imaginary characters (and the audience) asking enduring questions about complicity and culpability. When people like Roy Cohn behave badly and those “standing by” do nothing to interfere, are not all somehow culpable, somehow “in bed” with the perpetrator of minor and major crimes against humanity?
“In Bed With Roy Cohn” needs considerable tightening but provides a smorgasbord of light fare that will satisfy the palate of theatregoers not familiar with the antics of Roy Cohn and entertain those who enjoy a quick dose of comedy and farce.