Prior is devastated by his AIDS diagnosis, and by the exit of his lover, Louis, who can't deal with Prior's illness. Prior is challenged by the Angel to accept the role of a prophet of "stasis," who will halt the forward movement of progress. He rejects the role, opting instead to live and move forward, even if his future may involve dying a terrible death. Prior becomes a different kind of prophet, blessing everyone, including the audience, with the words "more life."
Intellectual to a fault, Louis is passionate about democracy and justice but cowardly in the face of illness and death. He deserts his lover, Prior, because he cannot handle Prior's AIDS diagnosis, although he eventually comes to realize his mistake.
The play's two axes of otherness—Jewishness and queerness—meet in Roy. Greedy, manipulative, and perverse; loud, vulgar, and rich, Roy lives up (or down) to many anti-Semitic stereotypes. He is also deeply closeted, rejecting "homosexual" as an insufficiently impressive identity for a man of his stature. Roy admits to having sex with men, but not to being a homosexual or being a member of the homosexual community. Rather than admitting his AIDS diagnosis, he claims he has "liver cancer" and remains closeted until his death.
Joe is married to a woman but desires men. He struggles with his sexual identity throughout the play, as he gradually emerges from the closet to a greater extent than he has before. He admits to his mother, Hannah, that he is gay, has his first affair with a man (Louis), and tells his wife he has no sexual feeling for her because she is female.
Harper spends her days alone, high on Valium to the point of hallucinating, but she also delivers one of the play's messages of hope. While she remains addicted to Valium, she is finally able to recognize that her marriage to Joe is over because of his homosexuality.