Of the seven principal characters in our play, four are former ‘Zeks’, political prisoners, condemned under one of the various sections of Clause 58 of the Soviet Penal Code, which deals with ‘political offences’. After serving sentences of between five and fifteen years in various Siberian labour camps, they have now received their White Passes and are obliged to live in ‘liberated’ but forced residence in the town of Magadan. They find work – for example, Dacha works in an infants’ school – but they live under constant surveillance, in bleak material conditions, and with the continual threat of being rearrested. They have the habit of referring to the rest of the Soviet Union as the Continent because it is as if they live in a world, on an island, apart.
The other three principal characters are, first, Ernst who is still a Zek, with five more years to serve in a camp near the town. Because he is a doctor who, besides working in the camp hospital, treats the families of the ‘Bruise’, the military guards in town, Ernst has been given the privilege of a free pass between camp and town, provided he returns to the camp each night. It is within the few free, problematic hours of this ‘Free Pass’ that he lives his ‘domestic’ life with Dacha. The second is Sacha, Dacha’s son whom she hasn’t seen for fifteen years. Since his mother’s arrest he has lived with his aunt in Leningrad on the Continent. The third is Micha who has served a sentence as a common criminal. In the camps, common criminals enjoyed many more privileges than the political prisoners. Micha is not in forced residence and could leave for the Continent tomorrow. If he stays it is because (sentimental reasons apart) he earns good money as a lorry driver.
The guards and camp administrators are commonly referred to as the Bruise for obvious reasons, and also because their uniforms were blue.