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Written by Nicola Francisc
Louis Ironson is a homosexual who is in a relationship with Prior. Louis comes from a family of immigrants and while he never openly expresses his feeling about his heritage, he envies those who have a more stable family than he does. Louis is a conflicted character because he is torn between the desire to stay with the man he loves and make sure that he is happy. Prior and Louis’s relationship is affected by the realization that Prior has AIDS and this will eventually lead to Louis abandoning his boyfriend. Despite this, Louis never stopped loving and caring for Prior and he tied to find more about Prior’s health through Belize, a common friends. Louis gets involved with Joe and for a brief time they enter a relationship. Joe is aware that Louis never stopped thinking about his ex-lover but despite this he still agreed become involved with him. The relationship between them lasted for a short period of time because Louis expresses his desire to get back with Prior. Louis is unable to reconcile with Prior because he can’t forgive him for the fact that he left him during a time of need. While many may consider Louis’s actions as being heartless, the only reason he left Prior was because he was afraid to stay beside a man who was dying.
Joe Pitt is another major character in the play. He is a married man who works in the legal department and becomes friends with Roy. Joe is married but he is unhappy because he is not attracted by his wife. Despite this, he continues to live with her and tries to save his marriage. Joe is presented as being an ethical character. When Roy asks him to sabotage one of his political opponents, Joe refuses saying that it goes against his ethics. His ideas about what is wrong or right are given primarily by the religion he has. Joe and his wife are Mormons and from the starts it becomes clear that Joe guides himself in life after the Mormon belief system. Because of his religion, Joe denies in the beginning his desire to be with other men and pretends that he is attracted by women. Joe changes radically after he meets Louis because he manages to awake in Joe his desires and Joe becomes unable to control them. As a result, Louis and Joe start a relationship and Joe lets his wife walk out on him. but Joe doesn’t finds happiness with Louis either because Louis continues to think about his ex-lover, Prior. When the relationship between Joe and Louis ends, Joe tries to repair his relationship with Harper but is unsuccessful.
Roy is one of the main characters in the play. Roy is a well-known lawyer whose only interest in life is acquiring more power and influence. Roy is described as being unethical in his work and he even tries others do to unethical things that will eventually benefit him. Roy played a major role in Ethel’s execution and while he claims the he has no regrets, the fact that he hallucinates Ethel in the last part of his life proves otherwise. Roy Cohn is a homosexual but he denies it because he fears how the others would react. What is more, the view he has about homosexuals stops him from identifying himself as being one. In the play, Roy and Joe develop almost a father-son relationship and this proves that despite his flaws, Roy is human and cares about certain people. His vulnerability is revealed at the end of his life when he admits his fears and asks other people to stay with him. The writer punishes Cohn by sending him in Hell after his death and this detail is revealed when Prior descends from Heaven and sees Roy talking with the Devil.
Prior is Louis Ironson’s gay lover. In comparison with Louis who was the son of immigrants, Prior is the member of a prestigious family that can be traced back many generations. It is not mentioned what he does for a living except the fact that he lives off money he received as an inheritance. Prior is diagnosed with AIDS in the beginning of the play and from that point Prior changes both physically and mentally. Prior remains alone after Louis leaves him and then he starts hallucinating about the Angel. His disease created a link between him and Heaven and it gave him the possibility to communicate with spiritual beings. The Angel gives him a task but he refuses the task given, arguing that it is not in human’s nature to stay put in one place. Whether the Angel is a hallucination or reality remain uncertain but for Prior, what he saw was real. Prior managed to remain alive in spite of the disease he had and five years later, in the Epilogue, Prior appears once more and talks directly with the audience, expressing his hope that he will live a long life. It is unclear whether the pills Louis and Belize took from Roy or if some new treatment helped Prior get better but it is clear that he managed to overcome his illness.
Harper is Joe’s wife in the play. The relationship between her and Joe is an unhappy one and his attraction to males and her mental health problems make the relationship between them even tenser. Harper has frequent hallucinations and dreams that are hard to explain. For example, Harper finds about her husband’s sexual orientation through a dream she had where she meet with Prior. Harper is a tragic character, cursed to be unhappy. She is a Mormon like her husband and the restrictive society she lives in only fuels her unhappiness. At the end of the play, she decides to leave her husband permanently and to move away, hoping that she will find the happiness she seeks.
Belize is another important character in the play. He is a former drag queen and Prior’s ex-lover with whom he remained friends with. Belize is an African- American man who works in a hospital where Roy is admitted. In fact, Belize is one of the nurses who take care of Roy and who get to witness the few moment when Roy shows his emotions. Belize is the only character in the play that can be considered as being stable. Belize has a belief system that doesn’t change, both morally and politically. After Roy dies, Belize takes his AIDS meds and gives them to Prior, action which may have led to his health improving.
Rabbi Chemelwitz is the rabbi who appears briefly at the beginning of the play. Louis goes to him after he finds that Prior had AIDS and asks him if it would be a sin to abandon Louise. The rabbi is unable to provide a satisfactory answer so Louis leaves. The rabbi is mentioned briefly towards the end of the play, when Prior takes a walk in Heaven thus meaning that the rabbi died sometimes between the time when Louis talked with him and Prior’s ascend to Heaven.
Sarah Ironson is Louis’s grandmother who died before the beginning of the play. While the cause of her death is not mentioned, it is mentioned that between her and her grandson existed some kind of tension. Sarah appears only once in the play, in the scene where Prior is in Heaven. There, Sarah asks Prior to tell her grandson that she forgave him.
Mr. Lies is a hallucination Harper has. He appears a couple of times in the play and one time his presence is linked with Harper’s mysterious disappearance.
Henry is mentioned as being Roy’s doctor. Not many information are given about him but it is mentioned that he advised Roy to try and use his influence to be included in a trial for an experimental AIDS drug.
The Angel is another character that appears in the play. The Angel is part of a council in Heaven who tries to make God return to Heaven. In order to do this, they need Prior’s help. The Angel of America is the Angel who visits Prior and who tries to convince him to help them. Despite being supernatural creatures, the Angel can’t force Prior to something that he doesn’t want, thus signaling their limited power.
Emily is a nurse who takes care of Prior. She tried once to cheer up Louis but was unsuccessful.
The Ramble is a man Louis meets in the park and with whom Louis has sex with.
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