Roy Cohn's Story Resurfaces With 'Angels in America' at Ensemble Theatre

James Rankin as 'Joe Pitt' and Jeffrey Grover as 'Roy Cohn' in Ensemble Theatre's 'Angels in America' [photo: Celeste Cosentino]
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New York City attorney Roy Cohn made his name in the 1950's working for Senator Joseph McCarthy and prosecuting Julius and Ethel Rosenberg for espionage.

Roy Cohn's name has returned to the headlines for his work in the 1980's with real estate mogul (now President) Donald Trump.  

Cohn's story is central to the Pulitzer and Tony winning drama Angels in America, which returns to Broadway later this year starring Nathan Lane as Cohn, who died in 1986 from AIDS.

This month Northeast Ohio audiences can see actor Jeffrey Grover portraying Cohn in the drama for Ensemble Theatre.  The two-part play captures the socioeconomics of the 80's and artistic director Celeste Cosentino sees Cohn's character as key to that portrayal.

"He represents a way of thinking and a bravado that was very prevalent [in the 1980's]," she said.

Playwright Tony Kushner uses the real-life Cohn, who lived as a closeted gay man, as a foil to his fictional characters, who are gay and struggling in the face of the AIDS epidemic.  However Cosentino doesn't want audiences to label Cohn as the bad guy.

"A lot of people might look at Roy Cohn's character as the villain of the play.  But Charles Smith, my playwriting professor at Ohio University, says you can't have evil people.  You have people who have different ideas of what is right," she said.

Angels in America premiered in the 1990's and established Kushner as one of America's great living playwrights.

Cosentino believes the themes of the two-part drama have as much relevance today as they did when the play debuted on Broadway in 1993.

"It was powerful in the time that it was written but has so many themes that are universal that anytime you do it, it still resonates in a really powerful way," she said.

Angels in America is presented in two parts. Part one, Millenium Approaches, is onstage now through January 28, while part two, Perestroika opens April 27 at Ensemble Theatre in Cleveland Heights.

Listen to Jeffrey Grover portray Roy Cohn:


NPR story on Roy Cohn's connection to Donald Trump

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