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Theater review: 'Hunger: In Bed With Roy Cohn' at Odyssey Theatre

January 25, 2012 |  2:25 pm


The image of Roy Cohn on his deathbed is so appealing to playwrights that the 1950s villain, the heavy of the Rosenberg trial and the Army-McCarthy hearings who died of AIDS in 1986, has embarked on a lively posthumous showbiz career. He and his deathbed starred in Tony Kushner’s “Angels of America" as well as in the 1992 cable movie “Citizen Cohn.” Now they're in the world premiere of Joan Beber’s “Hunger: In Bed With Roy Cohn,” directed by Jules Aaron at the Odyssey Theatre.

Here the deathbed is a king-size rococo gilt and wine-colored affair in a fancy hotel room (designed by John Iacovelli), where the hallucinating Cohn (Barry Pearl, as affable as always) dances with his nimble alter ego, “Young Roy" (Jeffrey Scott Parsons), and receives visits from his domineering mother (Cheryl David), lover G. David Schine (Tom Galup), sexy housekeeper/dominatrix (Presciliana Esparaolini), friends Ronald Reagan (David Sessions) and Barbara Walters (Liza de Weerd) and an unexpectedly butch Julius Rosenberg (Jon Levenson).

Beber, who earned her master of fine arts degree from USC at age 67, is unusual for a new playwright in that she watched the 1954 Army-McCarthy hearings on live TV. In a program note she recalls feeling “intrigued” by the “dashing” Cohn, recognizing only later how many lives he destroyed. And although her characterization doesn’t redeem him, it is tinged with a maternal pity. 

The creative team supplies plenty of bells and whistles, literally: original music (Max Kinberg), projections (Adam Flemming), choreography (Kay Cole), strobe lights (Jeremy Pivnick), many costume changes (Shon Le Blanc) and even a nude scene.

But because the dissociative storytelling lacks momentum and the supporting characters are so cartoonish, especially Reagan and Walters (“I have lockjaw!” proclaims Walters at one entrance), the audience may wonder why, not having committed Roy Cohn’s crimes or hung out with his famous friends, they are still stuck in purgatory with him.


More theater reviews from the Los Angeles Times

-- Margaret Gray

“Hunger: In Bed With Roy Cohn,” Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends March 11. $25 and $30. (310) 477-2055 or Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.

Photo: Barry Pearl, front, as the dying Roy Cohn and Jeffrey Scott Parsons as his lithe alter ego, “Young Roy,” in “Hunger: In Bed With Roy Cohn.” Credit: Michael Lamont