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Literature Study GuidesAngels In AmericaPerestroika Act 4 Scenes 1 4 Summary

Angels in America | Study Guide

Tony Kushner

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



Scene 1

Joe visits Roy in the hospital. Roy says Joe's father ought to have given him a blessing before he died; Roy puts his hands on Joe's head, as if in blessing. Joe tells Roy he has left his wife and is with a man now. Roy becomes furious, ordering Joe to leave and never mention this again. In an apparently deluded state, Roy tears the IV from his arm. Belize rushes in, attends to Roy, and tells Joe to remove his blood-stained shirt and throw it away. Ethel appears.

Scene 2

Louis and Prior meet, at Louis's insistence. Louis says he's already beaten himself up over his actions, but Prior says he sees no bruises. At first Prior thinks Louis wants to come back, but Louis wants only forgiveness. They briefly discuss Louis's boyfriend, Joe—a gay Mormon Republican. Prior asks why out of all the gay men dying of AIDS in New York he is the one whose boyfriend left him. Prior tells Louis not to come back again until he has external bruises to show.

Scene 3

Belize tends to Roy, who is high on morphine. Roy asks Belize what heaven and hell are like. Belize describes a broken-down, rubble-strewn multiracial city; Roy assumes this is hell but Belize says it's heaven.

Scene 4

Prior and Belize go to the federal court to scope out Louis's boyfriend. Joe recognizes Belize as Roy's nurse. Prior also lets slip he knows Joe's wife.


The first two scenes in Act 4 of Perestroika focus on the themes of denial and injustice in the midst of close personal relationships. Joe asks for a blessing from Roy, and in a sense he doesn't get it. Roy does lay his hands on Joe in blessing, and he even accidentally daubs him with his blood, but he refuses to acknowledge Joe's relationship with Louis. A blessing is the way the older generation acknowledges and makes room for the younger one. Since queer people are not necessarily born of queer parents, they sometimes seek parental figures elsewhere. But as a closeted gay man, Roy refuses to bless his protégé's gay relationship, suggesting that Roy continues to deny his own relationship to the homosexual community. Roy's rage at Joe's revelation also suggests either Roy's intense self-hatred or Roy's anger at the fact that he wants what Joe has yet, despite all of Roy's power, has been unable to achieve.

Prior asks Louis why he has been abandoned, unlike other gay men in New York with AIDS, who are nurtured by partners or friends. Louis claims he's been bruised inside by his guilt over leaving Prior, but he continues to make excuses for himself. He admits he "fucked up," but suggests that Prior did also, as if this makes Louis less blameworthy. Prior feels a sense of injustice in Louis's abandonment of him. Prior, whose wounds, both physical and psychological, are clearly visible, wants to balance the scales: he demands that Louis show him the bruises his decision to abandon Prior have left on him.

The audience could ask why Kushner tells the story of an abandoned lover with AIDS rather than the story of a couple brought closer by the shared tragedy. All the action of the play seems to be moving away from the couple as the primary social unit and toward some broader, more political bond. ("We will become citizens," Prior says later in Perestroika as he gathers with a motley group of his friends and his ex.)

Belize's heaven, for example, is notably politicized. Urban and full of people of color, it is not sleek or luxurious, but decrepit: "windows missing in every edifice." Belize also specifies the gods of the place are "brown as the mouths of rivers." It is not a segregated corner of heaven but a heaven where whiteness no longer props up white supremacy; this is represented by Belize's specifying in this heaven, "Race, taste, and history [are] finally overcome." Roy is heavily invested in being part of the dominant white power structure. Belize calls himself Roy's "negation" because he represents the end of the type of power Roy stands for. With his description of a heaven dominated by "racial impurity and gender confusion," Belize offers an alternative to mainstream straight, white culture with his own powerful view of the world reimagined.

Prior's attempt to scope out Louis's new lover, Joe, in Scene 4 is unexpectedly comic as he and Belize try to hide their true identities from Joe, but there is still serious subject matter underneath the laughs. When Joe recognizes Belize as Roy's nurse, Belize tries to deny it with a joke about race: "Not a nurse. We all look alike to you. You all look alike to us. It's a mad mad world." He later quips, "I am trapped in a world of white people. That's my problem."

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