Prior walks alone through a strange, dreamlike environment. He’s dressed in women’s clothing (similar to the Shirley Booth dress he described for Louis earlier). There are candles and kitschy curtains lining the stage.
There are many kinds of fantasy sequences like this one in the play. It’s also worth noting that Kushner specifies that nothing be too “realistic” or high-tech—the fantastical scenes should also remind us that we’re still watching a play.
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 that she’s the intruding in his dream. Prior and Harper introduce themselves. Harper says that she has “emotional problems,” and takes too much Valium. She says, “I’m a Mormon,” and Prior replies, “I’m a homosexual.”
One of Kushner’s most important points is that fantasy (or, if you like, hallucination) isn’t just an escape from the real world. Fantasy, in other words, doesn’t always just pull people apart or detach them from each other and reality—it also brings them together in surprising new ways. Here, for example, two utter strangers have a mysterious meeting in a dream—one a few scenes that question how much of the play’s “fantasy” is actually real.
Harper points out that her hallucination isn’t really that strange. Even though she’s in an unfamiliar place, this reality is still based on things she’s already experienced in the real world. Prior nods sadly and says, “It’s all been done before.”
This is one of the most famous passages in Angels in America. Harper and Prior agree that imagination is, in some profound way, impotent and bankrupt: there’s “nothing new under the sun.” This should remind us of the Rabbi’s eulogy for Sarah. And yet Prior and Harper react to the “nothing new” in two different ways. Harper seems more willing to play with her world—even if she can’t encounter new things per se, she can still put together old things in interesting new ways. Prior seems less intrigued by this possibility.
Harper asks Prior if Prior can see anything about her. Prior says that he can: Harper is amazingly unhappy. Furthermore, he says, Harper’s husband is gay. Harper immediately dismisses this as a lie. Then, she starts to realize that Prior is right. “Something just fell apart,” she says tearfully.
This reiterates Kushner’s point about the value of fantasy. Somehow, Harper’s meeting with Prior gives her an epiphany that will translate into her life in the “real world”—the knowledge that her husband is gay.
Prior then tells Harper something about himself: deep inside him, there’s a tiny part that’s entirely free of disease. Prior tells Harper, “That isn’t true.” Suddenly, Harper disappears. Frustrated, Prior calls himself “polluted,” and smears the makeup on his face.
Prior carries his despair into his dream—even when he’s asleep, he can’t stop thinking about his AIDS infection. This suggests that there’s no “wall” between reality and fantasy, or between the interior (disease) and exterior (makeup)—one influences the other, and vice versa.
Suddenly, a bright light fills the room. A small grey feather falls from above, and a voice booms, “Prepare the way.” The voice begins to murmur in Hebrew and English, though what it’s saying is difficult to decipher.
This is the first sign of the prophecy that Prior will later receive from the Angel of America. It’s not clear (and will never be entirely clear) if this prophecy is supposed to be “real” or one of Prior’s hallucinations (perhaps from the painkillers he’s been given). For this reason, Kushner’s play doesn’t quite qualify as magical realism (a genre in which “magic” is treated as banal truth).