It’s late at night, and the stage is divided in half. On one side, Joe is drunkenly standing in a payphone near Central Park; on the other, Joe’s mother (Hannah Pitt) sits in her home in Salt Lake City.
So far all the scenes have been set in New York City. Kushner now adds Salt Lake City, a famously Mormon city, to the play.
Joe calls his mother, and she asks, frightened, if he’s all right. Joe tells Hannah that he wants to “try something out” with her. Joe’s mother is amazed when he tells her that he’s been drinking.
Joe is clearly in a tough place. He’s been drinking alcohol—forbidden in the Mormon religion—and he’s obviously been contemplating his own conflicted sexuality.
Joe tells his mother, “I come here to watch,” but his mother doesn’t understand what this means. Joe asks if his father loved him. Hannah sternly tells Joe to go back to his home and call him from there. She also says that she doesn’t like their conversation—it’s too “maudlin.”
Joe’s mother doesn’t understand what he means, but we do: Joe comes to the park to watch other gay men having sexual encounters. Evidently, Joe had a rough relationship with his father (it was also once thought that homosexuality was the result of the lack of a strong father figure in a child’s life). Joe seems to finally be getting to the heart of all the things he’s been repressing for years.
Joe, now crying, tells his mother that he’s a homosexual. Hannah pauses, and then says that Joe’s father didn’t love him at all. She says that Joe is being ridiculous—she urges him to go back to his wife, so that she can go to sleep. Hannah adds that drinking is a sin, and hangs up the phone.
Joe’s mother’s non-response to Joe’s coming out is almost amusing, but also tragically poignant: she’s so ill-equipped to deal with her son’s revelation that she has no idea what to tell him.