The stage is again divided into two halves. On one half, Prior sits in the hospital. Louis enters the room. On the other half, Joe enters his apartment, where he finds Harper waiting for him.
This scene, like the one before, is “blocked” into two halves, emphasizing the distance between the play’s characters, but also the surprising connections between them—which we as the audience recognize, even if they don’t.
Louis tells Prior 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 tells Harper that he knows she’s not pregnant—he’s spoken to her gynecologist.
Joe and Louis adopt the same “position” with regards to their lovers: a little embarrassed, a little selfish, but basically determined to cut themselves off. Harper has been lying about her pregnancy—something that isn’t exactly surprising, but that might also symbolize the lack of any kind of future for Harper and Joe’s relationship.
Joe tells Harper that he’s known about “this” for his entire life—he tried to change himself, but can’t. He explains that he walks to the park, and he tries to stop himself from walking there, but he can’t. Meanwhile Louis tells Prior that he can’t be with him anymore. Prior threatens to “beat the shit” out of Louis.
Prior, understandably, doesn’t take Louis’s news well—he’d already warned Louis not to leave him. Joe now reveals that he’s been conscious of his own sexuality for decades, even though he’d tried to suppress it. Joe’s abandonment of his wife, then, is both tragic and refreshingly honest.
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 entire life. Meanwhile Prior accuses Louis of not loving him. Louis says “I love you,” but Prior snaps, “Who cares?” He accuses Louis of “deficient love,” and then screams. Prior closes his eyes and says, “When I open my eyes,” you will be gone. Louis runs out of the room. Prior opens his eyes and finds himself alone. He says, “I wish I was dead.”
Kushner parallels two different kinds of love: one false, one true. Joe feigned sexual attraction to Harper for years—he may have loved her in other ways, but not the ways he pretended. It seems unfair to say that Louis’s love is deficient—rather, Louis’s example illustrates how fragile most love really is. Many couples never experience a real, life-threatening challenge to their relationship, and thus never have to “test” their love. That was the AIDS crisis in a nutshell—it challenged all the things people took for granted about love, religion, and sympathy.
Joe tells Harper that she’s suffered from hallucinations for her entire life—hallucinations of a dangerous man in their bedroom. Now, Joe and Harper realize, it’s clear that this man is Joe himself. Harper screams for Mr. Lies to save her. She runs away from Joe, into another room of the apartment. Mr. Lies appears and asks Harper where she wants to go. She says, “anywhere.” They vanish together.
This scene represents an epiphany—Joe and Harper finally accept some harsh truths about their relationship. And yet Harper isn’t strong enough to “face reality,” so once again she barricades herself behind a wall of fantasy and delusion.