A large bed with an angled headboard dominates the stage and eerie projections of heart monitors with their loud beeping sounds are shown on the surrounding walls. As Roy Cohn ruminates about his existence, he cavorts with cartoonish depictions of Julius Rosenberg, his domineering mother Dora, Barbara Walters, Ronald Reagan, his female Latino housekeeper, his muscular African-American male lover, and his silent younger self.
Tony Kushner in his monumental 1993 two-part epic play Angels in America offered a blistering and memorable depiction of Cohn amidst a swirling panorama of characters and events. Here author Joan Beber inventively gives an accurate and erudite overview of Cohn’s life and career peppered with references to Sen. Joseph McCarthy, J. Edgar Hoover, Richard Nixon, and Walter Winchell. She has not, however, formulated a compelling dramatic trajectory and after its intriguing opening the show grinds on in a series of strident vignettes that cumulatively do not build to a satisfying conclusion.
Director Katrin Hilbe does a strong job of coordinating all of the production elements into a moderately visually interesting fantasia and obtaining suitably flamboyant performances from the stalwart cast. The adept choreography by Lisa Shriver adds some sheen to the often awkward surreal tableaus. Their work does yield some period disco sequences that are fun to watch.
With short gray hair, an animated physicality, and employing a gruff old-time New York City accent, Christopher Daftsios is very credible and engaging as Cohn. He often holds this rambling and formless farrago together with his excellent performance.
Distinguished New York City stage veteran Marilyn Sokol as Dora takes the perennial stereotypical Jewish mother part and infuses it with intense darkness while still being appealingly comic. Despite the requisite exaggerated lisp, Lee Roy Rogers presents a dignified and poignant characterization of television legend Barbara Walters. Serge Thony is physically and emotionally captivating as Cohn’s aspiring performer lover.
Nelson Avidon with his perfect low-key gazes, pauses and cadences is mesmerizingly hysterical as Ronald Reagan. Ian Gould brings anguish and depth to the role of Julius Rosenberg. Rebeca Fong delightfully mines all of the comedy possible out of the proverbial sassy housekeeper. Though silent, Andy Reinhardt makes a fine impression as Young Roy.
The combined efforts of composer and sound designer Andy Evan Cohen and lighting and projection designer Gertjan Houben are accomplished and contribute immensely to the desired hallucinatory effects.
Sarah Edkins’ simple but inspired set design consists chiefly of the striking large bed that doubles as other settings. Cohn’s red-patterned short silk pajamas, his lover’s gold lamé
short shorts, and Ronald Reagan’s stars and stripes boxer briefs are among the sight gags of Karen Ann Ledger’s artful costumes that elicit humor.
If In Bed With Roy Cohn were seen at a theater event such as The New York Fringe Festival, it could be viewed as a promising offbeat creation. But as a commercial Off-Broadway production it is quite deficient on a basic narrative level that undermines its other successful and outrageous qualities.
Roy Cohn (1927-1986) was a well-connected, gay, Bronx-born Jewish lawyer who came to prominence in 1951 by assisting in the prosecution of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg for espionage. Soon after he became an associate of Sen. Joseph McCarthy aiding in his anti-Communist campaign. He then went into private practice as a New York City attorney and acquired a celebrity clientele and became a vociferous Right-Wing powerbroker with ties to the Reagan White House. He had several clashes with Federal and State authorities, eventually loosing his law license just before his death. He was also a major fixture on the social scene as a habitué of the nightclub Studio 54 during its glamorous heyday of 1977 to 1981. It was then owned and run by Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager and frequented by Andy Warhol and his coterie.
Roy Cohn has been depicted on stage and screen in several notable performances. Ron Liebman won the Tony Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Roy Cohn in the original Broadway production Angels in America and Al Pacino won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a mini-series or movie for the 2004 television adaptation of the play in that role. In 1992, James Woods played him in Citizen Cohn, a television film adapted from Nicholas von Hoffman’s 1988 biography of the same title.
In Bed with Roy Cohn (through October 3, 2015)
The Lion Theatre t Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-239-6200 or visit http://www.inbedwithroycohn.com
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission