Louis is one guilty dude throughout most of Angels in America, but in Perestroika his guilt goes off the charts. He's definitely got a lot to feel bad about: deserting your lover who is deathly ill with AIDS isn't exactly the nicest thing to do. To make matters worse, Louis went straight from Prior into the bed of Joe Pitt, a man who represents all the conservative politics that super-liberal Louis despises.
In a way, Louis not only betrays his lover, he also betrays himself by hooking up with someone whose politics are so at odds with his own. Louis is a hypocrite on another level, too. He insinuates that being liberal is about wanting the government to help people and that conservatism is about selfishness. In his personal life, however, Louis is nothing but selfish.
Louis reaches a turning point when Belize informs him that Joe is associated with Roy Cohn, whom Louis thinks of as pure evil. Louis researches the appeals decisions Joe has ghostwritten for Roy and is horrified by their politics. When he confronts Joe, Joe ends up beating him to a pulp. From here on out, it's all about atonement for Louis. He's totally sorry for everything he's done and just wants to make it up to Prior. You almost get the feeling that he intentionally provoked Joe into beating him, because he felt like he deserved the pain.
Louis' next act of atonement comes when he helps Belize steal Roy Cohn's AZT (an AIDS treatment) stash to help Prior. While there, he reluctantly says the Kaddish, a Jewish prayer for the dead, over Roy's body with the help of the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg. Though the prayer is for Roy, it seems to help Louis find some sort of peace for his own troubled soul.
In the end, Louis comes full circle and tries to get Prior to take him back. Knowing he can't really trust his former lover, Prior rejects him.
In Louis' character arc we can see the overall message of the play: You can't go back, only forward. It's interesting that a character who claims to be the ultimate political progressive has real trouble applying the idea of progress on a personal level.
In the end, though, we see him palling around with Prior and the gang for the epilogue, showing that he has found a constructive way to move on. It looks like he and Prior have found a way to continue being friends, even if they're not lovers anymore.
For a discussion of Louis as a possible protagonist of the play, check out "Character Roles," and don't miss our thoughts on Louis in Millennium Approaches.Timeline