By Tulis McCall
Good Grief – where to start? In Bed With Roy Cohn is filled with so many overlapping “facts” that a person would be tempted to head directly to the Internet to sort them out. The play certainly doesn’t.
Roy Cohn was the flamboyant predecessor to our present day megalomaniac, HRH Donald Trump (a real life client of Mr. Cohn back in the day). Cohn was a sort of legal con-artist, born at precisely the right moment to wiggle his way into the political scene just as McCarthy was rising, Communism was the scare topic du jour, and homosexuals were forbidden from working for the government. In his lifetime he treated other people’s lives as food on which he feasted. He was a bag of contradictions, hating Jews and homosexuals while being both. He was a key element in the House On Unamerican Activities (HUAC) while using tactics that were illegal and unconstitutional to bring down anyone who ended up in his cross-hairs.
The premise of this play is that Roy (Christopher Daftsios) is delirious and close to death. He is dying of AIDS which he refuses to admit. His life has come down to this: he is alone, with the exception of his housekeeper Lisette (Rebecca Fong) and his demons. The person in the lead in that department is Julius Rosenberg (Ian Gould) who is doing just fine as a ghost. Cohn was instrumental in arranging for the Rosenbergs to be tried for espionage and executed together on the day after their wedding anniversary. Other folks who stream in and out of his consciousness and his bedroom include his mother Dora (Marilyn Sokol) who alternately comforts him and makes him physically ill. Ronald Reagan and Dick Nixon (both played by Nelson Avidon) also make an appearance. Barbara Walters (Lee Roy Rogers) is the longest running relationship of the bunch. There is also an appearance of Roy as a young man (Andy Reinhardt). The last addition to the lineup is Serge, Roy’s lover who is always just out of reach.
These characters are tossed at us like elements of a mad nightmare. While this was probably Joan Beber’s intent, she inadvertently created a nightmare for those of us in the audience. In Bed With Roy Cohn is a recitation of misdeeds, cruelty, lack of compassion, desperation, loneliness and deceit. If Cohn had a redeeming feature we do not see it. If there was a compelling reason for how he came to be the terror that he was, we never get a whiff of it. If there was a human being buried in there, he never emerges. This play is words words words and little more.
Katrin Hilbe’s direction goes to great lengths to salvage this piece. The cast is consistently spot on both as individual characters and as a chorus that both supports and taunts Cohn while he sheds his mortal coil. In addition the lighting effect by Gertjan Houben changes the tiny theatre into a time travel container of vast proportions. None of this, however, is enough to cover up the fact that there is no play here.
As I said, the actors give it everything they have and then some. They deserve battle pay. At least the rest of us get to leave this behind when we exit the theatre.