Literature Study GuidesAngels In AmericaMillennium Approaches Act 1 Scenes 5 6 Summary

Angels in America | Study Guide

Tony Kushner

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Angels in America | Millennium Approaches, Act 1, Scenes 5–6 | Summary

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Summary

Scene 5

Harper and Joe talk about the Washington job, while Louis, also onstage, talks to some rabbis about his grandmother.

Harper gives nutty reasons for not moving to Washington; it's a giant cemetery, she says, and it's where The Exorcist was filmed. She claims they're happy in New York, or at least "pretend happy." Joe cites his salary and his lack of advancement as a reason to move. In contrast to Harper's gloom, Joe is optimistic; he says the world is better than it was six years ago.

At the cemetery, Louis reveals to Rabbi Chemelwitz he "abandoned" his grandmother, never visiting her in the retirement home. He gives convoluted reasons, which boil down to his being unable to deal with "vomit ... and sores and disease" and being not "so good with death."

Scene 6

In early November Joe and Louis meet in a men's room at their workplace, a federal courthouse. Louis is weeping about Prior; Joe is sympathetic. Joe reveals he's Republican, and there is a teasing dance between Joe and Louis about whether Joe is gay.

Analysis

When a major and a minor character converse in Angels in America, the point is usually to reveal things about the major character. In the scene at the cemetery, the rabbi listens to Louis's convoluted excuses for himself, helping the audience see Louis's fear and self-interest. Louis can't even use the pronoun "I," but talks of himself in the third person ("maybe ... he isn't so good with death"). Instead of merely listening, the rabbi makes little jabs at Louis. He tells him if he wants to confess, "better you should find a priest." The rabbi's sharpness—both witty and biting—keeps his role from devolving into just sympathetically nodding while Louis rambles on. The rabbi's pointed joke about "confession" further emphasizes that Louis is contemplating a sin—abandoning Prior.

Harper accuses Joe of having "secrets and lies." The main secret of this play is homosexuality. Thus Harper's mention of secrets prepares the audience to learn Joe is gay. This scene also reveals the real state of Joe and Harper's marriage; it's not a partnership, but a struggle between Joe's secrecy and Harper's lunacy. Their conversation also reveals that Joe is a committed Reagan Republican. He says things are better now than "six years ago;" that was 1979, just before the Reagan era. Because of Reagan's association with ignoring the AIDS crisis, Joe the Reagan Republican is primed to come into conflict with Louis the gay Democrat.

Louis uses Prior's kind of intimacy with Joe—teasing. Thus Joe is positioned as a replacement for Prior. But teasing has other functions in this play. When Joe first asks what's wrong, Louis says it's "a run in my stocking." Louis has been crying, a behavior seen as not masculine (the other men left without speaking to Louis). Because Louis already exhibits one behavior not typically associated with heterosexual men (crying), he jokingly takes on other feminine aspects. He pretends he needs to fix his stockings, and he tells Joe his friends call him "Louise" (they don't).

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