Literature Study GuidesAngels In AmericaPerestroika Act 1 Scenes 1 4 Summary

Angels in America | Study Guide

Tony Kushner

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Angels in America | Perestroika, Act 1, Scenes 1–4 | Summary

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Summary

The title of Part Two, Perestroika, is a Russian word referring to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's 1980s policy of economic and government restructuring that led to the end of the Cold War and may have contributed to the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1990s.

Scene 1

In the Kremlin in Moscow, the "oldest living Bolshevik," Aleksii Antedilluvianovich Prelapsarianov, wonders whether "we" can change. Without a definitive theory for such a change, he concludes "WE MUST NOT move ahead!"

Scene 2

Louis and Joe go to Louis's apartment in the East Village. Joe is nervous; Louis calms him and seduces him.

Scene 3

Mr. Lies tells Harper there are no pine trees in Antarctica, but she finds one anyway and burns it for warmth. An Eskimo appears; it is Joe, dressed in his Mormon temple garment. The police arrive; Harper has been in Brooklyn all along. She is arrested.

Scene 4

Hannah arrives at Joe's apartment, alone. The police call with the news of Harper's arrest, and Hannah goes to the police station to help her.

Analysis

The root words of Aleksii's two last names are antediluvian and prelapsarian, meaning before the Flood and before the Fall. The Bolsheviks came to power during the Russian revolution of 1917. Thus the oldest living member of the Soviet revolution's Bolshevik Party is both outdated and paradisiacal, old-fashioned and utopian. The Bolsheviks were a political group responsible for the 1917 overthrow of the Tsar in Russia, leading to the establishment of the Soviet Republic. They advocated for a Marxist, or ultimately classless, society.

This part of the play is titled Perestroika, the name for the policy of reform and progress pioneered by Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev. He wanted Soviet Russia to resemble more closely capitalist countries such as the U.S.; Gorbachev also instituted democratic reforms called glasnost, such as greater freedom of the press. Aleksii's strategy of not moving forward—the same advice given in the angelic book—will fail, and perestroika will succeed.

The next three scenes continue the shuffling of couples that began in Millennium Approaches; Prior and Louis and Harper and Joe have split, while Louis and Joe are together. With notable exceptions, the large cast of characters in Angels in America unfolds through scenes about duos; usually there are only two characters in a scene, or two pairs of characters. Characters are rarely onstage alone, with rare exceptions like the play's initial appearance of the rabbi. By having characters appear in duos, Kushner highlights the positives and negatives of human interaction: union versus separation, the difficulties and rewards of communication, and the shifting of alliances.

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