About Joan Beber


I hold a B. A. in English from Northwestern University and an M.F.A. in Playwriting from the University of Southern California.  I began as a visual artist, also experimenting with performance and installation art. Writing for cinema and theatre has become my primary focus.

Resumes available on request

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In Bed with Roy Cohn by Joan Beber review by Susan Hall

In Bed with Roy Cohn by Joan Beber

Hallucinating with Ronald Reagan and Others

By: Susan Hall – Aug 30, 2015

In Bed With Roy Cohn

In Bed with Roy Cohn
By Joan Beber
Directed by Katrin Hilbe
Lion Theatre
New York, New York
Through October 6, 2015
Photos by Russ Rowland, courtesy of Undercover Productions

The walls of the darkened theatre splash with vital signs. A man lies dying. He is Roy Cohn, who theatre goers know from Angels in America. Cohn was Donald Trump’s first lawyer, which makes him very now.

Like J. Edgar Hoover, Cohn was a closet gay. Like Hoover, he struck out at others in order to deflect attention from himself. He knew every one and was feared, revered, reviled and attended to.

The trajectory of gay acceptance helps us find sympathy for Cohn’s predicament. Until recently, it was very difficult to be gay in this country.

Cohn also had a mother from hell. In a stunning performance by Marilyn Sokol, who deserves another Obie, Dora Cohn is a wicked and delightful horror. But she too helps elicit sympathy for Cohn.

Playwright Beber has set her play in the last days and hours of Cohn’s life. He would claim until the end that he had liver cancer, but it was AIDs, and his dying was long and difficult.

In Bed With Roy CohnYet Cohn is at first mounted on the headboard of his bed making the in-your-face-remarks for which he was well-known. In creating him Christopher Daftsios rises to ribald heights and then, against his will, collapses into his illness.

Barbara Walters was a ‘girlfriend’ for years. Lee Roy Rogers takes every opportunity to lisp in creating Walters. It is difficult to understand her attraction to Cohn. Were his powerful associations irresistible? For Cohn, she was a way to shut mama up about his failure to marry.

Ronald Reagan and Julius Rosenberg also haunt the dying Roy. Apparently Cohn did favors for the President, helping him win a New York State primary election in 1980. Playwright Beber puts Reagan on his high horse, always kindly and evasive and at the same time very funny in Nelson Avidon’s deadpan smooth delivery. Beber also adds a fantasy twist suggesting an attraction between Cohn and Julius Rosenberg, portrayed with humor and nuance by Ian Gould.

Director Katrin Hilbe brings apt physicality to these ideas: Reagan posts and Rosenberg offers up an active ass.

More humane is Cohn’s longterm love interest Serge. Actor Serge Thony moves from pure sexual interest to a man who wants deeper ties, even love. His needs and desires are touching. Cohn cannot find the feeling to respond.

Rebeca Fong is Cohn’s nurse and maid. She pirouettes and prances through her role and is a charming foil for the difficult hallucinations of the dying man.

Projection and lighting designer Getrjan Houben brings these moments to life by lighting the stage to indicate the twists and turns of Cohn’s mind: fiery spiders of light, projections of many-colored waters and dreamscapes. Movements choreographed by Lisa Shriver burst into juicy dance beats and gyrating twists.

In Bed With Roy CohnDirector Hilbe in her staging makes the relationships not only interactive but hyperactive to underline Cohn’s state of mind. Music fits the moment: Cohn likes Mimi’s songs (arias) from La Boheme, but always leaves after the first act of the opera. He’s too restless to focus.

The play is staged with surround sound and action happening everywhere. In the theatre’s aisles, characters watch and react to the scene as we do. We are not only drawn into the drama, we are in the grasp of its tentacles.

Scenes in which the dying Cohn tries to recapture his young self are played with a gentle stroke by Andy Reinhardt and make us yearn for a better outcome.

A provocative look at a much maligned American character helps us understand why our continuing progress in welcoming gays into the mainstream is so important. The consequences of suppression and denial have been devastating for individuals and society.


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New Show, “In Bed With Roy Cohn”

Begins Performances August 25th, 2015 at The Lion Theater at Theater Row, NYC

IN BED WITH ROY COHN is a serious end-of-life comedy about one of the most enigmatic and controversial men in American history, Roy Cohn. At the end of his colorful life, Roy awaits the inevitable, supported only by his last remaining faithful servant, Lisette. He is visited by the most important figures of his time demanding a reckoning for deeds good, bad and ugly. With bedfellows including, Julius Rosenberg, Ronald Reagan, Barbara Walters, Roy’s lover Serge, his mother Dora, and his youthful self, Roy is catapulted into a wacky and surreal wonderland, where his muddled reality ultimately becomes clear.

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HUNGER: In Bed With Roy Cohn

Excerpts from Reviews                                               

“Great direction and great cast provide a fascinating fresh look at an old demon.”
– BroadwayWorld

“…kaleidoscopic swirl of history, so well performed and cleanly staged by Jules Aaron.”

“Hunger is a very funny and ironic piece.”

“…a dazzling experience.”

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Backstage Review for Hunger: In Bed With Roy Cohn at the Odyssey Theatre

Reviewed by Dink O’Neal

JANUARY 31, 2012

Photo by Michael Lamont

With all the trappings of a confectionary acid trip, director Jules Aaron crafts a sensory teasing hallucinatory peek into the backstory of one of America’s most enigmatic figures in Joan Beber’s “Hunger: In Bed With Roy Cohn.” Communist hunter Cohn, known for his association with Senator Joseph McCarthy and the trial and executions of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, is no stranger to theatrical imaginings. Those expecting another in-depth assay may find Beber’s world premiere a bit lacking in substance, but that doesn’t seem to be her goal. Instead, she uses Cohn’s tortured life as a jumping-off point. It’s Aaron’s excellent direction, aided by Kay Cole’s captivating choreography, that makes this Brechtian leap, which Beber sets in purgatory, such a dazzling experience.

Barry Pearl is terrific as he presents Cohn’s tragically constructed inner workings. Eschewing a fey take, Pearl is more the Bob Newhart Everyman engulfed in a surrealistic swirl of caricatured figures. By anchoring the production, Pearl offers some small port in an otherwise outrageously mind-bending storm of imagery. Furthermore, his extensive background in musical theater proves useful given Beber’s inclusion of several vaudevillian interludes.

Remaining cast members inhabit an array of historical and imaginary characters. Cheryl David is a scenery-chewing delight as Cohn’s controlling mother, Dora. Tom Galup provides a solid version of Pearl’s friend and alleged lover G. David Schine. Liza de Weerd’s Barbara Walters, the famous journalist, who was once romantically involved with the sexually conflicted Cohn, and David Sessions’ stumbling Ronald Reagan are less impression and more charming goofiness. Jon Levenson, as the hauntingly hilarious specter of Julius Rosenberg, smoothly employs his impressive basso profundo voice. And in an epic display of physical expertise, Jeffrey Scott Parsons and Presciliana Esparolini give wing to Cole’s erotically charged dances as Cohn’s younger alter ego and his maid Lizette.

John Iacovelli’s tiled boudoir set, complete with a Pandora’s box of a bed, profits from Jeremy Pivnick’s outstanding lighting, and Adam Flemming provides eye-catching projections. Shon Le Blanc’s costumes and Max Kinberg’s original music are two more feathers in this production’s cap.

Presented by Linda Tolliver, Gary Guidinger, and Undercover Productions at the Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A. Jan. 21–March 11. Fri. and Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. (Additional performances Thu., Feb. 23 and March 1, 8 p.m.) (310) 477-2055 or www.odysseytheatre.com.

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HUNGER: In Bed With Roy Cohn

Can one of America’s most controversial and despised men come to terms with what might have been? Roy Cohn: wrong time, wrong place, wrong orientation!

Linda Toliver, Gary Guidinger and Undercover Productions present the World Premiere of Joan Beber’s fantasy play, directed by Jules Aaron. With choreography by Kay Cole and original music by Max Kinberg, the production features Barry Pearl as Roy Cohn, the brilliant attorney whose hunger for power and prominence ultimately destroyed him.

Waiting in oblivion and holding court on his bed, he is haunted by comic visitations of Ronald Reagan and Barbara Walters; his lover, G. David Shine and Julius Rosenberg, with Ethel on the phone. Only when his dancing inner child implores him to “come out” do we get to see Roy as he could have been.

Click here for more information and to purchase tickets.

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The Hunger of Roy Cohn, As Told by Beber and Aaron

Barry Pearl as Roy Cohn in “Hunger: In Bed with Roy Cohn”; photo by Michael Lamont

Joan Beber received a B.A. in English from Northwestern University at age 21 — and an M.F.A in playwriting from the University of Southern California 46 years later, at age 67. The premiere of her first fully produced play, Hunger: In Bed with Roy Cohn, which she wrote at age 73, is about to open at the Odyssey Theatre, directed by the award-winning Jules Aaron.

Described as a fantasy play with music, the plot centers on the life of Roy Cohn, the attorney who helped prosecute Ethel Rosenberg for espionage and then became famous as chief counsel to the U.S. Senate Permanent Investigations Subcommittee, where he helped his boss Sen. Joseph McCarthy look for Communists. He later became a celebrity attorney, but he was disbarred for ethical lapses shortly before dying from AIDS in 1986.


Director Jules Aaron, photo by Michael Lamont

“How I think of it as the director,” Aaron says, “is that we’re in some kind of purgatory in Roy’s mind.  The play actually takes place in a 24-hour period where we move in and out of different time periods, ranging from the ’50s to the present day.  Part of the fun of the play is that since we’re in his mind, it allows us to make different leaps that we wouldn’t be able to in a strictly biographical play. It starts with him as a young attorney and moves through his death from AIDS. What Joan has created is a kind of fluid structure that allows us to move through time and place in a very unusual and theatrical way.”

The historical characters in the play include not only Cohn, played by Barry Pearl — but also  Ronald Reagan, G. David Schine (the Cohn friend whose Army service became a point of contention in the Army-McCarthy hearings), Julius Rosenberg and Barbara Walters.

“Julius’s wife Ethel appears as a shadow in the doorway,” Aaron adds, “and is mainly someone Julius is talking to.”

Beber says of Barbara Walters, “Evidently, she and Roy were friends and they dated. And I believe they were engaged to be married at one time, but it didn’t go very far.  I don’t know the exact details of it, how long they were engaged, but apparently he was more interested in men. I heard recently that Roy’s mother was very much against their dating, which would stand to reason because she was a very dominating woman.  She didn’t want anyone to have Roy. She wanted to dictate every bit of his life.”


Playwright Joan Beber; Photo by Gary Guidinger

Aaron continues, “For the sake of our play, Barbara remains kind of an iconic figure as she travels through time with Roy. So we see her in a variety of different periods.”
Beber discusses her play’s two Roys.  “There’s young Roy who appears on stage with the older Roy. There’s a strong emphasis on the contrast between the two of them.  The younger Roy wants to push older Roy in a certain direction, and the older Roy is resisting. And you see this push-pull throughout the whole play.”

Aaron adds, “Young Roy becomes what Roy might have been had Dora, his mother, not been as strong as she was.”

Beber continues, “Besides Dora there’s Lizette, his housekeeper.  He actually had two housekeepers that he was very close to.  Since he was an only child and often left alone, these housekeepers mothered him.  I just picked one housekeeper for the play.”
Aaron interjects, “Lizette is someone who is very close to him throughout the play, kind of a major domo who is running his household.”


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