What’s in a Name

Grandma’s funeral bench scene

Angels opens with a funeral. The service for Louis’ grandmother has just passed and we see Louis and Prior sitting on a bench, their conversation starting from Louis’ acting “closeted” at family functions to the disappearance of their cat, ending with Prior’s great reveal of his sickness.

As an opening scene, there seems to be a hint of what lies ahead in the play when Prior says of Louis naming their cat Little Sheba, “Names are important!” Even later in this scene, when Prior reveals his “kiss of death”, the implications of it – the AIDS that lurks just faintly beneath the dark mark – is never named. When we avoid calling illness by its name, when we skirt around the issue and hide behind metaphors, what gets lost? What social stigma breeds under this cover of darkness?

Another point of interest is when Louis mentions the act of putting dirt in the grave. Everyone participates in the burial, making it a communal act. And just as Angels opens with Louis and Prior sitting on a bench in conversation, it ends with them, with the addition of Belize and Hannah, on a bench in Central Park. The Louis and the Prior at the beginning of the book are very different from the ones at the end – they have changed immensely. But the conversation has never ended. It’s even expanded with Belize and Hannah’s voices in the mix. Even if Prior doesn’t survive the winter, the community, the conversation, lives on.

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