Angels in America
Perestroika, Act One
(Act One is subtitled "Spooj")
Aleksii Antedilluvianovich Prelapsarianov, the World's Oldest Living Bolshevik, addresses the crowd from a podium. He poses a series of philosophical questions: Can people change? And can the world survive without an all- encompassing theory like the one that communism offered? Marxism was grand and sweeping, Aleksii says, but modern America only lives for throwaway things and pygmy ideals. At the end of the scene, Prior appears as he was at the end of Millennium Approaches, cowering on the floor before the Angel. He tells her to go away.
Louis shows Joe his new apartment on the Lower East Side. Louis begins to seduce Joe, but Joe holds back, uncomfortable, and moves to leave. But then he goes to hug Louis, who stops and admires his smell. Smell is sexual, Louis says, and the two men inhale deeply, then kiss. Joe finally agrees to stay, and they embrace passionately.
As Mr. Lies sits playing the oboe in Harper's imaginary Antarctica, she enters in her snowsuit, dragging a fallen pine tree—she claims to have chewed it down with her teeth. Joe enters, wrapped in Louis's bed sheet—he is the "Eskimo" whom Harper saw last time. He tells her he is having an adventure but that she cannot join him. He disappears, and Harper admits that she is not in Antarctica but in Prospect Park in Brooklyn and that she took the tree from the arboretum nearby. A police car pulls up, lights flashing, and Harper surrenders.
Hannah answers the phone in Joe's apartment and learns that the police have picked up Harper with a fallen tree in the park. She reprimands the officer for laughing. She insists that Harper is not insane and promises to come pick her up.
Prior wakes up in his apartment, the Angel gone and the ceiling intact. He has had a wet dream. He calls the hospital to talk to Belize, who is working the night shift. Prior tells him about his sexy "dream" about the Angel and asks him to come over—he feels sad and scared yet filled with a mysterious joy. In the hospital, Roy's doctor Henry tries to get Belize's attention, but Belize ignores him long enough to sing a hymn with Prior to cheer him up; Prior chooses "Hark the Herald Angels." Henry gives Roy's chart to Belize and tells him to treat him carefully. Belize protests that if Roy has "liver cancer" he belongs in a different ward. When Henry leaves, he calls Prior back with the gossip: the closeted Roy has just checked in with AIDS.
Belize goes to attend to Roy, who looks very sick. Roy insults him and makes racist remarks, but Belize threatens to mishandle his IV and leave him in terrible pain. Roy quiets down, but he boasts that he is immune to pain, that he can make anyone do anything he wants. Belize turns to leave, but Roy begs him with sudden sincerity not to leave him alone. Roy, a brutal realist, asks Belize if he will die soon, and Belize tells him he probably will. With a great effort at compassion, Belize advises him not to let the doctor perform radiation and not to let the hospital give him placebo drugs for testing purposes. Roy asks him why he is helping him even though Belize hates him. Belize replies he is doing it out of solidarity, implying that Roy is a fellow homosexual. Roy scorns him, but he takes his advice and blackmails Martin Heller into providing a private stash of AZT.
Over a period of weeks, Hannah tries to tend to Harper, who refuses to dress or leave the apartment. Disregarding her complaints and her depression, she finally forces Harper to tidy up and come with her to the Mormon Visitor's Center, where Hannah has started volunteering. Meanwhile, Louis and Joe begin a torrid affair. After sex, they talk about themselves and about politics. Joe says he feels suspended from real life but strangely happy. Louis confesses that he does not believe in God. They playfully banter about politics, insulting each other's viewpoints, each finding the other's alien worldview a turn-on. In their tender moments, Joe tries to heal some of Louis's enormous guilt about Prior and finally tells a sleeping Louis he loves him. But then the two scenes come together, and Harper appears in Louis's room. She screams at Joe that he is more tormented than he appears and that he cannot save Louis.
Scene Six marks the first encounter between Belize and Roy, who, in some ways, are diametrical opposites but who, in other ways, are the most grounded characters in the play. Joe, Harper, Louis and Prior must all struggle with their personal value systems in one way or another—they face internal crises. But while they have difficult lives as a result of external circumstances, Belize and Roy are not in crisis. Roy's syndrome is painful, debilitating and ultimately fatal, but it never prompts him to reevaluate his sense of morality or of ethics; even on his deathbed he will still firmly advocate his concept of winners and losers, the value of power and clout. Belize does not even face an externally-derived challenge like Roy—we know next to nothing about his internal life. Here and there we get glimpses of his life beyond the boundaries of the play: we know he is an ex-drag queen, and later we learn he has a longtime lover in Harlem; but mostly Belize's personal world is unknown.
Despite his lack of personal description, Belize is the moral center of the play, the character who is the most continually ethical, reasonable and fair. Framji Minwalla points out that Belize serves as an intermediary who at various times connects or brings together Roy and Prior, Prior and Louis, Louis and Roy, Prior and Joe. Unafraid to confront those in power, like Henry or Roy, he holds his ground in conflicts and brings humor and gentleness to friends like Prior when they are in need. He is the characters' sounding board and confidant, the person who comes closest to articulating Kushner's ideal politics—not the confused liberalism of Louis but a generous and inclusive yet realistic progressivism. This progressivism highlights another bond between Belize and Roy—just as they are the most stable characters, they also have the most sharply defined, clear-eyed political ideologies in the play. Joe and Louis argue about exalted concepts like law and history, and Louis tells Prior his glorious ideas about justice. Neither Belize nor Roy, however, is taken in by fancy words. They understand what power is and how it is wielded without illusions. Roy's vicious analysis of the "historical liberal coalition" cuts to the heart of one of modern America's cherished ideals, the interracial cooperation of the civil rights movement, and yet Belize has the keenness not to respond with platitudes about freedom and democracy. Belize is humane, Roy monstrous, but both are pragmatists.
This harsh honesty is the foundation of a grudging respect that Belize feels for his enemy, Roy. He advises Roy to ignore his expensive doctor and take his medical treatment into his own hands. When Roy, suspicious, asks why he is helping him, Belize is equally puzzled. But perhaps just as Roy learned to admire the tenacity of pubic lice, Roy's refusal to flinch in the face of pain and disease forces Belize to respect him—not to love him or condone his actions, but to respect him, at least grudgingly. Belize's respect and care for Roy is not based entirely on politics but also on the fact that AIDS humanizes Roy. In rare, fleeting moments—when he pleads with Belize not to leave him alone in the dark—the human being can be glimpsed beneath the ugliness and bravado.
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