Angels in America, Part One: Millenium Approaches
Rabbi Isidor Chemelwitz of the Bronx Home for Aged Hebrews (played by the same actress playing Hannah Pitt) stands onstage with a small coffin. It is late October, 1985. He delivers a eulogy for Sarah Ironson, Louis’s grandmother, in a heavy Eastern European accent. Sarah, whom he says he did not actually know very well, represents an entire generation of people who “crossed the ocean,” who landed in America, “the melting pot that never melted,” and who struggled “for the family, for the Jewish home.” He urges the mourners to preserve their ancient cultures and traditions, because “Pretty soon… all the old will be dead.”
It is the same day and we are in the office of Roy Cohn, a successful New York Republican lawyer with tremendous political influence. Roy is juggling several phone calls with various clients, spitting and cursing as he does so, while Joe Pitt, a chief clerk for the Federal Court of Appeals, patiently waits in his office. Finally, Joe asks Roy to stop taking the Lord’s name in vain. This gets Roy’s attention; he laughs, apologizes, hangs up the phone, and tells his secretary to tell anyone who calls for him that he’s dead. He asks Joe what religion he practices; Joe tells him he’s a Mormon. Roy tells Joe he’s called him into his office to offer him a big job in Washington, which he very much hopes that Joe will take: “It would mean something to me,” he says, “You understand?” Joe thanks him and tells him he’ll need to discuss it with his wife.
Later that day Harper, Joe’s wife, “an agoraphobic with a mild Valium addiction,” sits alone, speaking directly to the audience: “People who are lonely, people left alone, sit talking nonsense to the air, imagining… beautiful systems dying, old fixed orders spiraling apart…” Harper has been listening to the radio incessantly, and relates the disintegrating ozone layer she heard a program about to her own sense of personal chaos. “I’d like to go traveling,” she says to Joe, who isn’t there, “Leave you