Outside the synagogue, Louis Ironson (Sarah Ironson’s grandson) and a man named Prior Walter stand and talk. Louis never visited Sarah, he admits—she looked too much like his mother. Louis apologizes for not introducing Prior, his lover, to the rest of his family. He says he always gets “closet-y” around his relatives.
Louis hides his sexuality (presumably a very important part of his identity) from his own family, who are seemingly more traditional or conservative.
Prior tells Louis that Louis’s cousin Doris is a lesbian, and Louis is amazed. Prior laughs and tells Louis that he’s been doing an impression of Shirley Booth (an actress from the movie Come Back, Little Sheba), and notes that his cat, Little Sheba, has run away recently. As Prior says this, Louis notices a “burst blood vessel” on Prior’s body. Prior explains that this is a mark of “disease.” Prior tries to joke about his condition, but Louis begins to cry. Prior explains that he’s known about his condition for a while—he didn’t tell Louis because he was frightened that Louis would leave him. Louis then abruptly leaves, saying that he has to “bury my grandma.” He promises to come home to Prior later.
Come Back, Little Sheba, by William Inge, was the most popular play by Inge, a closeted homosexual himself. By impersonating a character from this play, Prior distances himself from his own sadness: it’s as if he adopts theater as a kind of defense mechanism in times of misery. This relates to the larger theme of fantasy as a way of dealing with pain, so it’s rather appropriate—though a bit disarming as well—that Kushner jumps from jokes about Little Sheba to a heartbreaking conversation about Prior’s AIDS. There’s nothing inherently “visible” about AIDS, but it weakens the immune system so much that bruising and bleeding is common, often “marking” its victims as somehow “contaminated.”