Angels in America

Angels in America

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Harper Pitt Character Analysis

Joe Pitt’s wife, Harper Pitt, is a mentally unstable woman who, thanks largely to her ingestion of large amounts of Valium, has vivid hallucinations. And yet because this is a Tony Kushner play, Harper’s hallucinations don’t alienate her from reality; instead, they put her in touch with a ”higher truth,” giving her an insight into life and humanity that many of the play’s more rational characters lack. Harper, a Mormon, feels confused and betrayed when she learns that her husband is homosexual. And yet in many other ways, she seems like the most progressive character in the play: she stands up for women’s rights in the Mormon religion and, in the climax, inspires Prior Walter to deliver a passionate speech on the value of human life. In the end, Harper leaves New York to go to San Francisco, where, it’s suggested, she’ll embark on a journey of self-discovery just as significant as the one her husband has experienced.

Harper Pitt Quotes in Angels in America

The Angels in America quotes below are all either spoken by Harper Pitt or refer to Harper Pitt . For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Homosexuality in the AIDS Era Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Theatre Communications Group edition of Angels in America published in 2013.
Millennium Approaches: Act 1, Scene 3 Quotes

Harper Pitt: I'm undecided. I feel . . . that something's going to give. It's 1985. Fifteen years till the third millennium. Maybe Christ will come again. Maybe seeds will be planted, maybe there'll be harvests then, maybe early figs to eat, maybe new life, maybe fresh blood, maybe companionship and love and protection, safety from what's outside, maybe the door will hold, or maybe . . . Maybe the troubles will come, and the end will come, and the sky will collapse and there will be terrible rains and showers of poison light, or maybe my life is really fine, maybe Joe loves me and I'm only crazy thinking otherwise, or maybe not, maybe it's even worse than I know, maybe . . . I want to know, maybe I don't. The suspense, Mr. Lies, it's killing me.
Mr. Lies: I suggest a vacation.

Related Characters: Harper Pitt (speaker), Mr. Lies (speaker), Joe Pitt
Page Number: 18
Explanation and Analysis:

Here we're introduced to Harper Pitt, the frustrated Mormon housewife who spends most of her day high on Valium. Although Harper isn't exactly a model human being, she brings up one of the most important themes of the play. Harper has a constant sense that something important is about to happen: it's almost the year 2000, and it seems reasonable to think that some major event is going to occur as the millennium approaches.

Harper's belief that "something is going to happen" has an obvious religious flavor--she frames her belief in traditional Christian terms. Her naive optimism is both admirable and strangely pathetic--it's as if by focusing so exclusively on the future, Harper is turning her back on the "here and now." And as Mr. Lies--the imaginary character Harper sees when she takes too many pills--implies, Harper's desire for a second coming is a kind of "vacation" from the real world. Harper fantasizes about the future so that she doesn't have to face the consequences of her actions in the present.

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Millennium Approaches: Act 1, Scene 5 Quotes

The truth restored. Law restored. That's what President Reagan's done, Harper. He says: "Truth exists and can be spoken proudly."

Related Characters: Joe Pitt (speaker), Harper Pitt , Ronald Reagan
Page Number: 26
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Joe Pitt interacts with his wife, Harper Pitt. Joe is a Mormon and a closeted homosexual, but he's also a loyal Republican and a disciple of Ronald Reagan, the current president of the United States. As Joe tells Harper about his admiration for Reagan, his words take on an ironical, messianic fervor: it's as if Joe believes Reagan to be the embodiment of the second coming.

Joe's faith in Reagan might seem absurd, and yet Joe speaks for many during the Reagan years who saw the president as the savior of the United States. Reagan framed his presidency in terms of "traditional moral values"--thus, for many, especially conservatives and Christians, Reagan was returning America to its utopian past.

There's an interesting contradiction in Joe's speech: he conceives of Reagan as a prophet, bringing America into the future. And yet Reagan himself claimed to do just the opposite, bringing America back into its (supposedly) glorious past. Such contradictions seem to illustrate some of the flaws in Reagan's presidency--the way he claimed to speak for the Americans of the 1980s (including immigrants, homosexuals, etc.), and yet really only acted on behalf of white, straight, Christian Americans.

Millennium Approaches: Act 1, Scene 7 Quotes

Harper Pitt: I don't understand this. If I didn't ever see you before and I don't think I did, then I don't think you should be here, in this hallucination, because in my experience the mind, which is where hallucinations come from, shouldn't be able to make up anything that wasn't there to start with, that didn't enter it from experience, from the real world. Imagination can't create anything new, can it? It only recycles bits and pieces from the world and reassembles them into visions . . . Am I making sense right now?
Prior Walter: Given the circumstances, yes.
Harper Pitt: So when we think we've escaped the unbearable ordinariness and, well, untruthfulness of our lives, it's really only the same old ordinariness and falseness rearranged into the appearance of novelty and truth. Nothing unknown is knowable.

Related Characters: Prior Walter (speaker), Harper Pitt (speaker)
Page Number: 32-33
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Harper Pitt experiences a bizarre, vivid hallucination in which she crosses paths with Prior Walter--a homosexual man whom she's never met before, and who's also having a vidi hallucination. During their hallucinated encounter, Prior and Harper discuss the nature of hallucination itself. Harper claims that hallucinations are just rearranged versions of the real world--in other words, one can't hallucinate anything that isn't already in the real world to begin with.

Harper's observations complicate the way we should interpret the dream sequences throughout the play. On one level, Kushner implies that the characters' dreams are just hallucinations and imagination--they're opportunities for the characters to mull over their real lives and reach surprising insights (many of the characters' epiphanies arrive in dreams, not waking life). This fits in with Harper's statements here. But on another level, there is a real fantastical element to the dream scenes. Harper and Prior have never met in real life, but they meet in this hallucination--the dream is producing something that didn't exist in either character's mind before.

Harper's observations about dreams also act as a kind of thesis statement for Angels in America itself. Kushner's play may be a work of fiction, and yet it's also a distillation of American culture during the age of AIDS. By watching the "fantasia" of the play, audiences can come to some surprising insights about their culture and their country.

Millennium Approaches: Act 1, Scene 8 Quotes

Harper Pitt: I'm going to have a baby.
Joe Pitt: Liar.
Harper Pitt: You liar. A baby born addicted to pills. A baby who does not dream but who hallucinates, who stares up at us with big mirror eyes and who does not know who we are.
Joe Pitt: Are you really ... ?
Harper Pitt: No. Yes. No. Yes. Get away from me. Now we both have a secret.

Related Characters: Joe Pitt (speaker), Harper Pitt (speaker)
Page Number: 41
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Joe has a fight with his wife, Harper. Joe and Harper have been trying to have a child for some time now, and they've failed--in part because Joe is gay, and so doesn't want to have sex with Harper, and in part because Harper seems not to want a child. Here Harper claims that she's pregnant, then contradicts herself again and again--still clearly living half in the world of fantasy, and half in reality.

The exchange between Joe and Harper might symbolize the state of American society during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s. For many, AIDS threatened the continued survival of the human race--the untreatable disease could wipe out America. And for many in the gay community, AIDS only reinforced familiar themes of survival and reproduction, since homosexual couples couldn't have children. For the gay community, and America as a whole, AIDS prompted a lot of questions--What will happen after we die?; will our community survive, or will it disappear forever? Harper's ambiguous answer to such a question (Yes. No. Yes.) reflects the grim uncertainty of American society at the time.

Millennium Approaches: Act 2, Scene 2 Quotes

In the whole entire world, you are the only person, the only person I love or have ever loved. And I love you terribly. Terribly. That's what's so awfully, irreducibly real. I can make up anything but I can't dream that away.

Related Characters: Harper Pitt (speaker), Joe Pitt
Page Number: 52
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Harper Pitt tells Joe that she's leaving him. Harper seems to sense that Joe is gay, and definitely senses that Joe doesn't really love her romantically. And yet Harper continues to love Joe--indeed, Joe was the only person she ever really loved.

In many ways, the passage is a critique of the culture that would lead a homosexual man like Joe to pretend to be heterosexual. Joe has spent most of his life deluding himself into believing that he's straight--in the process, causing misery to many, including Harper. And yet Joe isn't to blame for Harper's misery--he, too, is a victim of the heteronormative culture that forces gays to stay in the closet, and so the person being caused the most misery is arguably Joe himself.

The passage also reinforces the relationship between dreams and reality. Dreams aren't really an escape from the real world at all--on the contrary, dreams just intensify the joys and pains of reality. Thus, Harper's dreams aren't a source of solace for her--whether she's awake or not, she's conscious that Joe doesn't love her, but she loves Joe.

Perestroika: Act 5, Scene 8 Quotes

I want the credit card. That's all. You can keep track of me from where the charges come from. If you want to keep track. I don't care.

Related Characters: Harper Pitt (speaker), Joe Pitt
Page Number: 282
Explanation and Analysis:

At the end of the play, Harper finally summons the courage to walk out on Joe Pitt, her mostly-closeted gay husband. She's suspected that Joe is gay for some time now, but the strength of her convictions--not to mention her love, and her fear of change--has kept her from leaving him behind. Now, however, Harper is ready to make a change in her life. Unlike many of the other great "changes" in the play, Harper's decision to abandon Joe isn't part of any lofty plan--she has no idea what's going to happen to her now.

Harper greedily asks Joe for his credit cards, however--proof that she's not entirely ready to live on her own. Evidently, Kushner doesn't try to glorify Harper's decision--she's brave, but not perfect.

Perestroika: Act 5, Scene 9 Quotes

Nothing's lost forever. In this world, there is a kind of painful progress. Longing for what we've left behind, and dreaming ahead. At least I think that's so.

Related Characters: Harper Pitt (speaker)
Page Number: 285
Explanation and Analysis:

After Harper tells Joe that she's leaving him forever, she offers a strange explanation for her actions. Harper doesn't know exactly what's going to happen to her now, but she feels that it's vitally important that she keep moving forward somehow. Harper characterizes her desire to keep moving as a basic human emotion--the desire for "painful progress." All people, she suggests, experience the pains of change as they move through life, simultaneously mourning what they've lost while also looking ahead to the future.

"Painful progress" might as well be the name of Kushner's play. Kushner is quick to criticize those who look forward to the future too eagerly (Louis, perhaps); i.e., those who believe that life has a predetermined direction to it. Yet Kushner is also critical of those like Reagan and Cohn who look back to the past with too much nostalgia. In the end, Kushner offers a compromise: we must look to the future while also mourning individual suffering and the passage of time, remaining optimistic without ever allowing optimism to blind us to reality.

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Harper Pitt Character Timeline in Angels in America

The timeline below shows where the character Harper Pitt appears in Angels in America. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Millennium Approaches: Act 1, Scene 3
Fantasy, Escape, and Tragedy Theme Icon
Joe Pitt’s wife, Harper, sits in her apartment, talking to herself. She takes some pills and finds herself staring... (full context)
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Mr. Lies tells Harper that he, like all travel agents, has the power to send people anywhere in the... (full context)
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Harper complains that Joe, her husband, “stays away,” and Mr. Lies advises her to keep moving.... (full context)
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Suddenly, Mr. Lies vanishes, and Joe Pitt walks into the apartment—he’s early, Harper points out. Abruptly, Joe asks Harper if she’d like to move to Washington. (full context)
Millennium Approaches: Act 1, Scene 5
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Back in their apartment, Harper is telling Joe Pitt that she’s not sure if she wants to go to Washington... (full context)
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Harper claims that she has too much to do in New York City—she has to paint... (full context)
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Back in the apartment, Joe Pitt tells Harper that things are changing in the U.S.—President Ronald Reagan has inspired people to embrace truth... (full context)
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Joe tries to apologize to Harper. Harper tells him that she’s been researching how to give “a good blowjob.” Joe finds... (full context)
Millennium Approaches: Act 1, Scene 7
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Prior, speaking in a woman’s voice, comes across Harper Pitt. Harper demands, “What are you doing in my hallucination?” Prior laughs and tells Harper... (full context)
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Harper points out that her hallucination isn’t really that strange. Even though she’s in an unfamiliar... (full context)
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Harper asks Prior if Prior can see anything about her. Prior says that he can: Harper... (full context)
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Prior then tells Harper something about himself: deep inside him, there’s a tiny part that’s entirely free of disease.... (full context)
Millennium Approaches: Act 1, Scene 8
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Joe Pitt comes home to his apartment, where he finds Harper waiting for him. Harper asks, “Where were you,” but Joe doesn’t have a good answer.... (full context)
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Joe angrily asks Harper if there’s something she wants to ask him, but Harper replies, “Tell me without making... (full context)
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Harper asks Joe, “Are you a homo?” She threatens to burn their apartment to the ground... (full context)
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Back in the Pitts’ apartment, Joe tells Harper that it’s time to pray. Harper asks God if her husband is gay, and Joe... (full context)
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Harper tells Joe that she’s going to have a baby—a baby who’ll turn out just like... (full context)
Millennium Approaches: Act 2, Scene 2
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Joe Pitt walks into his apartment and finds Harper sitting on the couch in the dark. Harper explains that she heard someone in their... (full context)
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Harper asks Joe what he’s been praying for, and Joe explains that he wants God to... (full context)
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Harper tells Joe, “You are the only person I’ve ever loved.” Then, she tells Joe that... (full context)
Millennium Approaches: Act 2, Scene 4
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Joe Pitt and Roy Cohn sit in a bar. Joe, totally sober, explains that Harper, his wife, is mentally disturbed, and takes too many pills. Cohn, drunk, listens closely. God’s... (full context)
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...moral people of the world who are chosen to go to Heaven. Although he loves Harper, Joe is most attracted to the part of Harper that’s farthest from the “light.” Cohn... (full context)
Millennium Approaches: Act 2, Scene 9
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...Louis enters the room. On the other half, Joe enters his apartment, where he finds Harper waiting for him. (full context)
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...that he’s moving out of their apartment. “The fuck you are,” Prior answers. Joe tells Harper that he still loves her, but he can’t stay in a relationship with her. He... (full context)
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Joe tells Harper that he’s known about “this” for his entire life—he tried to change himself, but can’t.... (full context)
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Joe admits that he has no sexual feelings for Harper. Harper tells Joe to go to Washington. She accuses Joe of “spinning a lie” his... (full context)
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Joe tells Harper that she’s suffered from hallucinations for her entire life—hallucinations of a dangerous man in their... (full context)
Millennium Approaches: Act 3, Scene 3
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Harper stands in a strange, snow-covered place. She claims that she feels better than she has... (full context)
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Harper asks Mr. Lies if she’s attracted to him—she’s been craving male companionship for a long... (full context)
Perestroika: Act 1, Scene 3
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We are in Harper’s imaginary Antarctica. Mr. Lies sits on the ground, playing an oboe—the instrument of “ducks.” Harper... (full context)
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As Harper and Mr. Lies talk, Joe Pitt approaches them, claiming that he’s been looking all over... (full context)
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Harper realizes that she’s standing in Prospect Park, Brooklyn—not Antarctica. She took the tree from the... (full context)
Perestroika: Act 1, Scene 4
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Hannah learns from a police officer that Harper has been arrested in Prospect Park for stealing a large tree. Hannah snaps at the... (full context)
Perestroika: Act 1, Scene 7
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On one half of the stage, we’re in Joe’s apartment. There, Hannah stands with Harper. Harper babbles about Antarctica and her depression and her need to take pills. She confesses... (full context)
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...Joe tells Louis, “I love you.” Louis doesn’t answer. Suddenly, Joe looks up and sees Harper standing next to the bed—she’s walked over from the other side of the stage. Harper... (full context)
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Louis wakes up, having heard Joe talking to “Harper.” Louis tells Joe that he dreamed that Joe was a member of a mysterious cult—like... (full context)
Perestroika: Act 3, Scene 2
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...announces that this is the Diorama Room of the Mormon Visitors’ Center, where Hannah volunteers. Harper sits in the room, eating candy and junk food. (The audience notices that one of... (full context)
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...tape plays, welcoming visitors to the Mormon Visitors’ Center. Suddenly, the tape speeds up, and Harper notes that they’ve been having trouble with the tape lately. Harper nonchalantly offers Prior some... (full context)
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Prior tells Harper that he’s come here to conduct research on angels, since he’s just had a dream... (full context)
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...tells his “family” to be strong and courageous as they wander across America toward Zion. Harper laughs and says that the Mormons will probably die on their trip. She also notes... (full context)
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The scene fades, so that we can still see Prior and Harper looking at the stage. On the stage, however, we see Louis and Joe, arguing about... (full context)
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Prior is astounded to see Louis in the diorama, but Harper calmly tells him that Louis is always there. Prior calls Louis’s name, and Louis hears... (full context)
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...lighting changes again—the diorama looks normal, and a regular mannequin has replaced Joe. Hannah criticizes Harper for being obnoxious, and suggests that Prior leave the room while she repairs the diorama.... (full context)
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Harper stands alone in the diorama room. She turns to the mannequin of the Mormon Mother,... (full context)
Perestroika: Act 3, Scene 3
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...the people he loves. Joe insists that for his part, he’s not guilty for abandoning Harper. He never has nightmares about Harper, or any dreams of any kind, for that matter.... (full context)
Perestroika: Act 3, Scene 5
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Harper and the Mormon Mother from the diorama are walking through Brooklyn Heights, but everyone from... (full context)
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...the other half of the stage, Prior walks into his apartment. The Mormon Mother tells Harper that Joe will return to Harper soon. (full context)
Perestroika: Act 4, Scene 4
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...claims that she doesn’t even remember. She criticizes Joe for his cruelty and insensitivity—he’s left Harper to spend all her time with dioramas. (full context)
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Joe tells Hannah that he’s come to take Harper home. Hannah says this is a foolish idea—and anyway, Harper isn’t at the Visitors’ Center.... (full context)
Perestroika: Act 4, Scene 5
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The scene opens on a harbor. Harper walks along the harbor, barefoot and dressed in a frail-looking blouse. Joe enters the scene.... (full context)
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Joe tells Harper that he’s come back for her. Harper doesn’t answer. Then she says, “Let’s go.” (full context)
Perestroika: Act 4, Scene 7
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The scene opens with Joe having sex with Harper in their apartment. After they’re finished, Harper asks Joe why he closes his eyes during... (full context)
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...up and tells her that he needs to go and take care of some things. Harper, furious, tells Joe, “Look at me!” Joe looks and says, “I see nothing.” Harper thanks... (full context)
Perestroika: Act 5, Scene 2
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As Prior walks through Heaven, he sees Harper, playing with Little Sheba, the cat Prior lost in Part One. Harper greets Prior and... (full context)
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...points out the scenery, comparing it with San Francisco. The real San Francisco, he tells Harper, is far lovelier. Harper says that she’d like to see it. (full context)
Perestroika: Act 5, Scene 4
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Joe sits in his apartment late at night. He calls Harper on the phone, but doesn’t get an answer. Suddenly, Roy Cohn walks into the room,... (full context)
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Harper enters the apartment. Joe is amazed to see that his wife has come back. He... (full context)
Perestroika: Act 5, Scene 8
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We’re in Joe’s apartment. Harper carries a big suitcase while Joe sits in his chair—it seems that Harper’s getting ready... (full context)
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Reluctantly, Joe hands Harper his credit card. Harper accepts it, and tells Joe that he’ll never hear from her... (full context)
Perestroika: Act 5, Scene 9
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Harper sits on a plane. She says to herself, “Night flight to San Francisco—it’s been years... (full context)
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Harper talks about the “painful progress” of life on Earth. All humans have to learn how... (full context)