Perestroika follows on chronologically and plot-wise from Millennium Approaches. It is a complex play that provides a symbolic and fantastical examination of homosexuality, race, and AIDS in 1980s America. The play is made up of eight main characters, all of whom play several other minor characters (of both sexes) throughout. It focuses on the story of Prior Walter, a gay man living with AIDS who has recently been left by his partner, Louis, after he could not cope with the physical and personal impact of the disease. The play opens as Prior is visited by the Angel who has come to make him the prophet for the Great Work designed by the angels above to save the human race. Prior’s rejection of this role underpins the key message of the play: that in the midst of tragedy, mankind keeps moving forward and must keep evolving in order to sort out the destruction it leaves behind. Interlinked with Prior are his ex-partner Louis, who has started a confused relationship with married Mormon lawyer Joe, and Harper, who is married to Joe and possesses the other-worldly vision (or “Threshold of Revelation”) that Prior also has. Prior is unwittingly assisted in his road to revelation by Hannah Pitt (Joe’s mother), who arrives from Salt Lake City to take care of Harper when Joe begins his affair with Louis. Aside from Prior’s journey, the play also contends with the death of Roy Cohn, a real life attorney and key power broker during the McCarthy era. He is dying from AIDS and is visited in his final hours by Ethel Rosenberg, who wants to be the one to tell him of his disbarment and ultimate professional demise. The play ends on a note of optimism as Prior tells the audience that, while AIDS has killed many, there are many more struggling on, living life out of the shadows and keen to be heard.
Angels in America, Part Two: Perestroika guide sections