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Comparing Fact and Fiction: Kushner’s Portrayal of the Real Roy CohnIn Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, Kushner gives his portrayal of a historical figure, Roy Cohn. The play’s depiction of Roy’s conduct and personality was determined by Kushner’s research before writing the play. The most probable way that Kushner got a “feel” of who Roy Cohn was, would have been through newspaper articles, magazines, and books. These resources that Kushner used helped him create a fictional Roy Cohn, for whom Kushner got to make the decisions, and choose the way Roy would be displayed to the reader. By choice of the author, Roy is a menacing character; someone who bullies and lies; a person who states that “Pain’s… nothing, pain’s life,” (Perestroika 157). Roy is presented as a very rude and ignorant individual, making remarks such as, “I’ll sue you so bad they’ll repossess your teeth you dim black mother…” (Perestroika 157). In comparison to the articles written about the historical Roy Cohn, Kushner’s portrayal of Roy is very similar and realistic. I believe that Kushner chose to include the historical Roy Cohn in Angels in America, in order to extend a bridge from fiction into reality in the purpose of spreading the message of acceptance and equality. Kushner’s bridge is created by establishing a historical figure in his play that changes the Kushner’s characters into people.Whether he agrees or not, Kushner’s portrayal of Roy was influenced by the opinions in the articles and magazines he used as research. In order to understand Roy as a person, Kushner relied on the accounts from the perspective of others. These opinions are reflected throughout his play in cases such as the first page of William Satire’s essay in the New York Times in which he states, “[Roy] denied his homosexuality because he could never reconcile it with his self-image of political masculinity.” This quote draws parallels to the play itself in which Kushner uses this
idea, and has Roy deny homosexuality by alleging that homosexuality is “Not ideology, or sexual taste, but something much simpler: clout,” (Millennium Approaches 51). Kushner’s Roy believes that since he is a successful lawyer, the label of homosexual does not apply to him. Kushner’s Roy thinks that “Homosexuals are men who know nobody and who nobody knows. Who have zero clout,” (Millennium Approaches 51). Kushner uses Satire’s argument in order to construct this “political masculinity” as the foundation of Roy’s denial of homosexuality. The situations that Kushner puts Roy in Angels in America; dealing with the ghost of a Ethel, who he illegally had sentenced to death, reflects the demeanor in which Roy was presented in newspapers. The historical Roy Cohn was explained by Sydney H. Schanberg’s article in the New York Times, as “seem[ing] forever to be at the heart of the controversy.” This being true due to the fact that he was no stranger to highly debated cases, such as the investigations by Senator Joseph McCarthy into the alleged Communists in the United States Government.