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Literature Study GuidesAngels In AmericaPerestroika Act 3 Scenes 1 2 Summary

Angels in America | Study Guide

Tony Kushner

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Angels in America | Perestroika, Act 3, Scenes 1–2 | Summary



Scene 1

Joe and Louis are in bed; Hannah and Harper are in Harper's living room. Joe sometimes crosses into Harper's scene, and Harper into Joe's, as if in a dream. Since Joe's departure and her arrest, Harper's been wearing the same nightgown day and night. Hannah helps Harper fix herself up. Harper appears in Louis's bedroom, and she and Joe talk about whether Joe is in love with Louis. Joe wakes up next to Louis in the morning. Louis complains about his dreams. Joe claims he doesn't dream at all, or perhaps he doesn't remember them.

Scene 2

Roy snarls on the phone, ordering someone to stall the committee investigating him. Ethel Rosenberg, whom Roy sent to the electric chair, appears and so does Belize; Roy curses them both. Roy shows Belize his stash of AZT. Belize asks for some; Roy refuses at first, flinging racial insults at Belize. When Belize refuses to be intimidated by the insults, Roy softens and allows him to take one bottle. Belize takes three. Ethel tells Roy she attends the meetings of the committee preparing to disbar him.


The characters in Angels in America are from very different walks of life, and often Kushner can bring them together only by staging split scenes or having them meet in dreams, as in Scene 1. The dream travels of Joe and Harper are unrealistic but psychologically plausible; couples who have just broken up often continue to haunt each other for some time. Harper is still in Brooklyn, where Hannah cares for her, and Joe is living with Louis in New York, but Harper crosses time and space to have a heart-to-heart conversation with Joe by magically appearing in Louis's apartment. Migrations that could not physically or realistically occur, such as the Angel crashing through the ceiling or characters visiting each other in dreams, recur throughout Angels in America, particularly at moments when humans struggle to connect with each other or to process traumatic events.

The historical Roy Cohn was indeed fighting not to be disbarred at the end of his life, over a scandal involving a limousine company, as Roy mentions in the play ("the LIMO thing"). And he did inveigle himself into the AZT trial, one of only 28 patients in the country. But Kushner's fictionalized Roy Cohn goes beyond a historical portrayal to become one of contemporary drama's great villains; Louis will call him "the polestar of human evil" in Act 4, Scene 5 of Perestroika. It is Roy's brash and scornful admissions of his own wrongdoings that make him a great villain. He shamelessly hoards his AZT, more proof of his "clout." Like the open secret of his homosexuality, Roy's evil is something he almost dares others to acknowledge as proof of his power.

On the level of plot, Roy has little to do with the most important characters, Louis and Prior; this is unusual for a stage villain. But thematically Roy casts a long shadow. As a closeted queer and as a Jewish man, Roy makes "the crossing" every day, as the rabbi says at the play's start. Furthermore, it's partly Roy who made the world Louis and Prior and Joe live in, first in alliance with McCarthy's "lavender scares," which persecuted gay men in government posts, and then in alliance with the Reagan administration, which was slow to take action in the AIDS crisis.

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