Perestroika begins with a warning against change and progress by the oldest living Bolshevik. However, the rest of the play argues against this mindset. At the end of Millennium Approaches, an angel descended and presented Prior with “the Great Work” to stop humans from moving, changing, and migrating so that they will no longer cause destructions in heaven. Yet Prior gradually realizes that moving and progress are inevitable, and even necessary, for humans. Throughout the play, for instance, each character progresses emotionally. Prior and Harper gain strength from being abandoned and are able to reject or leave Louis and Joe. Joe finds the courage to come out as a homosexual to his mother and Roy. After betraying Prior and realizing he has been in a relationship with a man whose acts he abhors, Louis comes back to Prior for his forgiveness. Perhaps we should ask if individual progress represents humanity’s progress in general? The play also takes a stance against conservatism when characters who are more liberal end up finding new directions for their life: Harper leaves for real to San Francisco, and Prior finds hope in life, while Roy Cohn, a conservative, suffers a tragic death. It’s interesting that even in his last moments, the final word he uttered was “Hold.”
Change is the central theme in Perestroika, as each character, with his or her own manifestation of “illness” has individual character growth. The angel rejects the idea of change, insinuating that change and movement will cause the destruction of heaven, and therefore of humanity. However, it is interesting to compare this connection between destruction and change with a similar, yet different connection in Walter Benjamin’s Theses on the Philosophy of History. Benjamin claims that “The storm is what we call progress.” Is the destruction and turbulent storm that is being wrought upon heaven in Kushner’s play a sign of the progress and forwardness of humanity? Is it necessary to have that storm because it is the only way our society will progress or move forward, creating a better life and finding a satisfying meaning in it while doing so?
Reality in Part Two becomes even more distorted with shared dreams, hallucinations, alternate realities and even ascent to and descent from heaven. It appears that the characters share a bond on a mystical or spiritual level through which they are able to connect and know things about each other that are secret or otherwise unrevealed. For instance, there are several times when Harper and Prior come to share the same dream, to the extent the audience is unable to recognize whether these encounters are dream or reality. As the play progresses the distinction between what is real and what might be a dream or a hallucination becomes even more blurred. For example, in this scene Harper is able to interact with reality and Louis acknowledges her as if she was real.
“(Harper puts her hand under Louis’s head, and pushes up; Louis startles awake.)
Louis: Who are you…?
Joe: (To Louis) I – It’s nothing, just…
(To Harper) Go.
(She vanishes)” (182)
Even though they have never met each other, characters begin to see visions of each other and even hear each other’s voices. As a result, this raises the question, what does it mean to have this shared connection? Are there political meanings behind this?