So Awfully, Irreducibly Real
JOE: Why are you sitting in the dark? Turn on the light.
HARPER: No. I heard the sounds in the bedroom again. I know someone was in there.
JOE: No one was.
HARPER: Maybe actually in the bed, under the covers with a knife.
Oh, boy. Joe. I, um, I’m thinking of going away. By which I mean: I think I’m going off again. You . . . you know what I mean?
JOE: Please don’t. Stay. We can fix it. I pray for that. This is my fault, but I can correct it. You have to try too . . .
(He turns on the light. She turns it off again.)
HARPER: When you pray, what do you pray for?
JOE: I pray for God to crush me, break me up into little pieces and start all over again.
HARPER: Oh. Please. Don’t pray that.
JOE: I had a book of Bible stories when I was a kid. There was a picture I’d look at twenty times every day: Jacob wrestles with the angel. I don’t really remember the story, or why the wrestling — just the picture. Jacob is young and very strong. The angel is . . . a beautiful man, with golden hair and wings, of course. I still dream about it. Many nights. I’m . . . It’s me. In that struggle. Fierce, and unfair. The angel is not human, and it holds nothing back, so how could anyone human win, what kind of a fight is that? It’s not just. Losing means your soul thrown down in the dust, your heart torn out from God’s. But you can’t not lose.
HARPER: In the whole entire world, you are the only person, the only person I love or have ever loved. And I love you terribly. Terribly. That’s what’s so awfully, irreducibly real. I can make up anything but I can’t dream that away.
— Angels in America: Millennium Approaches, Act 2, Scene 2
Tony Kushner is taken to task from time to time for his harsh treatment of Joe Pitts, the closeted, Republican, Mormon lawyer whose self-hatred motivates so much of the plays’ drama (and poisons his marriage to Harper). Those critics must ignore this passage, which is among the most beautiful and heartbreaking Kushner has written. It’s been at the very back of my mind for nearly a week now but came front and center earlier this evening.