Prior wakes up in his apartment, terrified and alone. He crawls on the floor, too weak to stand. Suddenly, he speaks in a woman’s voice, saying that “the angel” is coming, bearing the “book of life.” Frightened, Prior covers his own mouth and says that he’s talking nonsense.
Prior’s encounter with this angel has all the trappings of a typical Biblical prophecy—the angel, Prior’s fear, and the book the angel is carrying. Divine writings that are presented as physical objects figure prominently in all sorts of religious stories—the Ten Commandments, Smith’s vision of the Angel Moroni, etc. It’s also important to note the hermaphroditic nature of the angel—it speaks through Prior with a woman’s voice, though in itself it is not female.
On the other side of the stage, Joe walks through Central Park. He sees Louis, sitting alone on a park bench. Joe asks Louis if he’s heard of Lazarus. When Louis shakes his head, Joe talks about Lazarus, who was resurrected from the grave by God. He also admits that he comes to the park at night quite often, and that he followed Louis here. Joe touches Louis’s face, but Louis warns that Joe could “suffer pain” if he touches Louis.
Louis is clearly wracked with guilt for abandoning Prior, and it was this sense of guilt that impelled him to punish himself by having sex with the Stranger in the park. Joe is still nervous about pursuing an affair with another man—his religious convictions run deep, as his mention of Lazarus indicates. And yet Joe might be trying to use religion to rationalize his own actions: just as Lazarus was “born again,” so Joe wants to be reborn as a healthy gay man.
Slowly, Joe touched Louis’s lips, whispering, “I’m going to hell for doing this.” Louis shrugs and leads Joe “home.” Louis kisses Joe on the lips, and Joe kisses him back. Louis smiles and says that he’s never slept with “one of the damned” before. Joe admits that he doesn’t think he deserves to be loved. Louis shrugs again and walks away. Joe follows him.
Louis ironically reverses our expectations for this scene—in other words, just as Joe is afraid of sleeping with “the damned” (i.e., homosexuals), so Louis is equally nervous about sleeping with a Republican conservative.
Back in his apartment, Prior begins to hear a strange sound—it’s the sound of wings beating. He’s frightened of the sound, but also sexually aroused.
Sexual arousal as connected to fantasy and religion figures prominently in the second half of the play. Sometimes it’s a barrier to enlightenment, while sometimes it’s a path to prophecy.
Suddenly, the roof of Prior’s apartment caves in, covering Prior with plaster and dust. A beautiful angel flies in, smiling at Prior. The angel greets Prior, calling him a prophet. The angel says, “the great work begins.”
The first half of the play ends on a note of suspense—we still don’t know what the great work will be, or why Prior has been chosen (or if any of this is even real in the first place!). Moreover, the play has presented so much contradictory information about the importance of prophecy that we don’t know how Prior himself will react to the angel’s news.