Study Guide

Angels in America, Part Two: Perestroika Versions of Reality

By Tony Kushner

Versions of Reality

Mr. Lies: The Eskimo is back.
Harper: I know. I wanted a real Eskimo, [...] this is just... some lawyer, just...
Joe: Hey buddy.
Harper: Hey. (1.2.10-13)

As if the layers of reality weren't already complicated enough in the first part of <em>Angels in America</em>, Kushner starts adding new layers to think about in the second. In this scene we're once again taken to Harper's imaginary Antarctica. Near the end of the last play, the actor playing Joe appeared as an Eskimo. Now he shows up as Joe himself. What's interesting is that Joe isn't actually physically there. This is either Harper's imagined version of him, or another one of Kushner's reality-bending moments where a character can be consciously present in another character's dream world. You're making our heads hurt, Tony!

Stage Directions: <em>The magic Antarctica night fades away, replaced by a harsh sodium light and the ordinary sounds of the park and the city in the distance. </em>(1.2.27)

Harper's hallucinatory interaction with Joe overloads her imaginary Antarctica, and reality creeps in. Even though the little scene with Joe doesn't exist in normal reality, it still manages to shatter Harper's world of illusion. The pain of Joe's abandonment is just too much to imagine away.

Stage Directions: <em>The lights of a police car begin to flash.</em>
Mr. Lies: The Law for real.
Harper: Busted. Damn. What a lousy vacation. (1.2.36-38)

When the cops show up, Harper's imaginary Antarctic vacation is officially over. Turns out she was just wandering around Prospect Park in the snow for a few days. Time to face reality, Harper.

Prior: It wasn't a dream. [...] I think it really happened. I'm a prophet. (2.1.20-22)

Prior seems pretty much convinced that his experience with the angel was, on some level, real. He certain that he's been given a prophecy. Unfortunately, it's not one he wants to bring into reality.

Harper: Don't worry, I'm not really here. I have terrible powers. I see more than I want to see. Maybe I'm a witch. (3.1.14)

In this moment of reality bending, Harper seems to magically cross into Louis' apartment. There she talks to Joe while he's in bed with his new lover, Louis. She says she's not really there, but is some part of her actually present?

Father: [...] but who was Right? Could only be One True Church. All else darkness...
Stage Directions: <em>Louis suddenly appears in the diorama.</em>
Louis: OK yeah yeah yeah but then answer me this: How can a fundamentalist theocratic religion function participatorily in a pluralist secular democracy? [...]
Prior: Oh my god Oh my god. What... What is going on here? (3.3.52)

Good question, Prior. There are all kinds of layers of reality here. For one, both Prior and Harper imagine Joe as the Mormon Father in the diorama room of the Mormon Visitors Center. As if that weren't weird enough, they then both simultaneously witness a religious debate occurring between Louis and Joe all the way in Brooklyn. The actor playing Joe ends up having to play the Mormon Father and Joe at the same time. This scene really takes time and space and puts it in a blender, which is precisely why it's so awesome.

Prior: Louis...
Louis (Hearing him): Did you...
Joe: What?
Louis: I thought I heard... Somebody. Prior. (3.3.74-76)

Wow, as if there weren't already enough layers of reality in the diorama room, here comes another. All the weird stuff we talked about in the previous quote is going on, and on top of that Louis can actually hear Prior's voice. Even though they aren't physically present in the same space, the two are somehow connected.

Hannah: You've go no business with me, I didn't call you, you're his fever dream not mine, and he's gone now and you should go too, I'm waking up right... NOW! (5.1.27).

This attempt at waking up fails, and Hannah remains in what may or may not be a dream. The fact that both Prior and Hannah both see the angel makes it seem as if she is actually there. Could it be that in the world of <em>Angels in America</em>, dreams are just as real as "reality"?

Harper: [...] Where are we?
Prior: Heaven.
Harper: Heaven? I'm in Heaven? (5.2.4-6)

Harper and Prior cross paths in dreamland one last time when they meet up in Heaven. Or are they really in Heaven? Oh, who knows, we give up... Does it really matter if it's real or a dream? If the people experiencing it think it's real, then it's real, right? Right? As a random side note, Harper's line makes us think of Fred Astaire singing the cute song "Cheek to Cheek" to Ginger Rogers.

Prior: I've had a remarkable dream. And you were there, and you... (5.7.13)

Did you catch the <em>Wizard of Oz</em> reference here? Just like Dorothy, Prior wakes up from a dream that seemed all too real. Even if his journey to Heaven was a fantasy of some kind, it has changed his perspective forever.

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