Angels in America
Perestroika, Act Five, Scenes 6–10 & Epilogue
Walking the streets of Heaven, Prior encounters Rabbi Isador Chemelwitz and Sarah Ironson playing cards. In Heaven, where everything is known, the rabbi says, the only pleasure comes from the indeterminacy found in games of chance. The rabbi c alls forth a ladder to descend. Sarah asks Prior to tell Louis that she forgives him, and that he must always struggle with the Almighty.
As Prior descends from Heaven, he sees Roy far in the distance, in what seems to be the pit of Hell. Roy is talking to an unseen client, the King of the Universe, promising to defend him against a lawsuit for abandonment. Roy tells his client he is cl early guilty but that he will make something up.
Prior slips back into bed and wakes the next morning, exhausted. His fever has broken, Emily says. Prior thanks Hannah for saving his life, but she denies it, and comments on her "peculiar" dream. Louis enters, cut and bruised from his fight with Joe. Hannah and Belize say their goodbyes, Belize handing Prior the bag full of AZT. Alone, Louis asks Prior if he can come back.
At home in Brooklyn, Harper asks Joe for his credit card—it is the only thing of his she needs, she says. He pleads with her not to go, but she only slaps him. He will never hear from her again, she says. She hands him two Valium pills and tells him to go exploring, then leaves. Meanwhile, Louis repeats his desire to come back to Prior. Prior tells him he loves him, but that he cannot ever come back.
Harper is on a flight to San Francisco to begin a new life. She describes a dream of the ozone layer: it was torn and ragged until the souls of the dead, rising from the earth, joined it and made it whole again.
Epilogue (subtitled "Bethesda")
Prior, Louis, Belize and Hannah sit on the rim of the Bethesda Fountain. Louis and Belize are arguing about the fall of the Berlin Wall, but Prior tunes them out. He tells the audience that five years have passed, longer than the time he lived with Louis. Louis tells the story of the angel Bethesda, who touched down in Jerusalem and left a healing fountain where she walked. When the Millennium comes—not the year 2000, but the "Capital M Millennium"—they will all bathe themselves clean there, P rior says. He plans to live to see it again in the summer, he says. No matter what, the struggle for life and full citizenship—"the Great Work"—will continue.
The play's denouement begins in earnest in Scene Eight, when Prior awakens in the morning to find his temperature has broken in the night. His tumult with the Angels has passed as surely as his bout of fever, and it is literally and figuratively a new day . With the action of the play resolved, a new society can be constituted on the ruins of old relationships. The characters who appear in Scene Eight—Louis, Prior, Belize and Hannah—are the same ones who will be members of the new society in it s refined form in the Epilogue.
Since the play presents it as an ideal form of community and family, this society of four deserves close examination, especially who is and is not allowed to be a member. The group is multiracial and pointedly diverse: a black man, a WASP, a Mormon woman, and a Jew. However, to belong to this society, it seems one must be gay and comfortable with one's gayness, or at least not an "avowed" heterosexual. Prior and Belize are the only fully uncloseted characters (and the only gay men in the play who are full y ethical and good); Louis, who was nervous about disclosing his homosexuality back at his grandmother's funeral, still lives his life essentially as an openly gay man. Hannah's sexual orientation is never discussed, but her difficult marriage, her impati ence with "lumpish" men and her gigantic sexual encounter with the Angel all point toward her potential lesbianism. Kushner does not specify what he means by the direction, "Hannah is noticeably different—she looks like a New Yorker," but it is safe to assume she is not wearing a dress and pearls. Meanwhile, Roy is excluded from the scene, of course—he would not be a member even if he were alive—but so is Joe. His right-wing politics, upper-middle-class profession and conservative person ality prevent him from entering this idealized gay society. Even though Angels in America proclaims itself "A Gay Fantasia," a considerable segment of the gay community has no place in its world.
The play's final messages are delivered first by Harper and then by Prior, the two characters who were linked spiritually by their dream/hallucination scene in Millennium. Their optimistic pronouncements are virtually the same: "In this world, ther e is a kind of painful progress," Harper says, while Prior concludes, "The world only spins forward." It is an upbeat, sentimental ending: even intractable problems like the destruction of the ozone layer can be healed by togetherness and community, which are symbolized by the linked hands and ankles of the rising souls. In his last words Prior bridges an even more fundamental divide, that between characters and audience, turning to the theater and addressing the listeners directly. His blessing includes us in the play's spirit of forgiveness.
It also seems to join us to a specific political program—the defeat of AIDS and the struggle for gay civil rights. In the background, Louis and Belize keep arguing about the fate of Eastern Europe and the Middle East, suggesting that politics cannot and should not be avoided. Prior's remark that "we won't die secret deaths anymore" invests the audience in the concept of coming out; our conversion to the cause of gay rights is part of the world's inexorable forward motion. It is a fitting end to this democratic, optimistic play.
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