Novyy Nachalo [Meaning “New Start” in Russian]
By: Charles Metcs
[The main light shines on the center of the stage, everything else behind it is blacked out, on the center of the stage is the protagonist Erik Schriner with his arms out in a cross position and his head looking down, he raises his head and begins a monologue directed at the audience]
“Survivor, that is my name now [sigh]…but it wasn’t always. I was once just a little helpless Erik Schriner, a village boy from the country of Latvia, no possible idea of the life journey I was about to embark upon. As a child I grew up in an Eastern European country meaning I was always surrounded by snow, small buildings, turnips and peppermint tea and work everybody everywhere. But then one day…they came, the men from him…Joseph Stalin. They burst through our house and snatched my mother, little sister and I from our cotton beds, the last time for a long time we would see or feel comfort cradling us like children in the dark night, the last time we would stop and gaze at the moonlight shining down from above. We were removed so fast my father, a factory worker, didn’t even have enough time to rush to the cellar and grab his rifle, but he wouldn’t have made a difference. These men were unstoppable like the monsters in the ghost stories we were told as children. We were rushed to the train station and were shoved into a car full of others stuck in the same predicament as us. No explanation, no sympathy just silence and confusion to consume us on our long, cold trip to Hell…what they called the Gulags. Not many know of the Gulags, they were the Man of Steel’s most infamous creation in his empire known as the Soviet Union. Cesspools of brutal labor, sickness, abuse and much, much loss awaited us in the freezing wilderness of Siberia, the harsh Northeast of Russia, with no escape or mercy. So how did I end up here after so many years of having to bear all that, well one thing Hell taught me was self-reliance, which means faith in ourselves. Faith to me has always been Humanity’s greatest motivator I found it in that horrid place amidst everything else and never let it go. It helped me trust the future, because the future is never truly set.”
[The center light then goes off and blizzard wind sounds can be heard and blue light then come up and lights the whole stage revealing the set of a Gulag. From Stage Left a Guard walks on towards a gate set piece in the center. Then from the right Erik, his mother and little sister walk on slowly looking sad. Harsh music comes on as they approach the gate a prisoner runs on from stage left with a shovel followed by another guard who joins the other Guard at the Gate. Erik watches the boy as he’s working digging up the ground with the shovel, the scratching metal sound of the shovel can be heard. The Guard then separates Erik from his family and pushes him toward left as he yells for his family and cries and he gets pushed on the ground eventually. The other Guard pushes his family out and closes the Gate. The mother is forced to the grab the little sister as she runs toward Erik and pulls her away off the stage. Erik then runs toward the gate but is grabbed by the other guard and begins a fight with him, he knocks the guard on the ground and gets up but is hit in the face with the shovel by the Guard, who grabbed the shovel from the prisoner during the fight. The Guard then gets up and the two run off stage.
[The music then goes off and Erik’s crying and grunting can be heard as he is trying to pull himself off the ground the prisoner looks around and then puts down his shovel and lifts out his hand in front of Erik and pulls him up.]
The Prisoner: “Are you alright”.
Erik: [While wiping his tears] Wha…what happened, where am I…where is my family [He grabs the prisoners lapels and yells] WHERE ARE THEY! [He begins to cry again]
[The Prisoner hugs and says] “You are in a Gulag, a Siberian labor camp, my name’s Yuri it’s 1941 and I’ve been here for 6 years since 1935 and I’m 30 years old, in my six years I’ve seen very horrific things happen to people my age but I assure you I won’t let them happen to you I want to help you survive as I have but you need to start by facing reality, I’m sorry but they’re gone”.
Erik: [crying hardly]”No”.
Yuri: “I’m very sorry but it’s true”.
Erik: “Can you at least tell me where they went”.
Yuri: “This camp is full once again, people die all the time in here so therefore new ones are needed to take their places. You were lucky enough to be one of them and not have to suffer the fear and confusion of where you’re headed all over again. There are hundreds more of these in this part of the world they’re headed for the next one, I’m sorry but you won’t see them for a while.”
Yuri: “But I’ll be your friend, what’s your name”.
Erik: “Erik…Erik Schriner”.
Yuri: “I like that name where are you from”.
Erik: “I was born in a small town, practically a village, in Northern Latvia I guess I’m used to this kind of weather now cold snow and harsh winds, but I’d much rather be there than here”.
Yuri: “We have 2 things in common it seems, we’re both from Latvia, except I’m from the South, much greener. I was born on a potato farm but it was burned to the ground when the squads came and I like you was separated from my parents”.
Erik: “I’m sorry”.
Yuri: “Please don’t be you didn’t do a thing, you know the worst thing I’ve had to deal with throughout all my years here up till now”?
Yuri: “I still don’t truly know why I’m in here, it seems that neither does anyone else”.
Erik: “What do you mean”?
Yuri: “Well the farm I grew up on has been owned by my family for 5 generations but soldiers from the despicable Communist regime we live under now showed up and stated that we had to give it up so they could build homes and factories on top of it for the citizens from the cities. They saw it as an act of greed and selfishness to claim so many acres of land as their own and threatened us to share it with the rest of the people, my parents refused, they kept their honor, so they burnt it to the ground and took them and therefore me, being related to who they call traitors as well. But it makes no sense, my family built that farm from the ground up for hundreds of years they plowed, grew and pulled those crops with their bare hands from the ground so they could the feed the starving people just outside of our home, not for money, not for praise just because it was the right thing to do. It’s their creation, their hard work their pride but the now its theirs to build their factories on and the city people’s to build their homes on none of them helped create it so why should they share it. Why should all their life’s work be burnt down and destroyed for the prosperity of others, it shouldn’t be. That’s the worst thing about our government today they don’t value the strength and hard work or creativity of men and women.”
Erik: “I suppose your right”.
Yuri: “Why are you in here, you come from a home non secluded from everyone else I’d like to here your perspective”?
Erik: “Well, my father was a factory worker and my mother worked at home as a house wife just as hard doing our laundry, cleaning, cooking feeding all of us ensuring our survival but because she didn’t make money doing it and didn’t work outside like my father she was declared a criminal by them we were taken as well because they saw us as lazy kids because we were without jobs and my father was left alone, he’ll probably never see us again all because we didn’t make money like him, we weren’t ready to work but I guess we have to be now”.
Yuri: “You see, if you’re not the same as everyone else, who in reality is who the regime wants them to be, you’re branded a criminal or traitor and sent here even if you don’t know who you are yet, it’s crazy. But I’ve learned that this is my life now and I may as well make the most of it, will you do the same Erik”.
Erik: “Yeah, I’ve known you for only a few minutes but you’ve told me things I would never think of hearing my whole life, thank you”.
[Just then stomps are heard off stage and Yuri starts to work]
Erik: “Yuri what is it”.
Yuri: “The Guards are back just say nothing”!
[One of the Guards approaches Erik from stage left pulls him up and puts a shovel in his hand and the other says then lets go and slaps him]
Guard: “You attacked my guard earlier, that is unacceptable in this camp, there are rules that must be followed to maintain order. There is us and there is you and we are above you and you will work for us to make up for your crimes or you will be shot and don’t except a funeral. When you attacked my guard I was angered but impressed, you seem strong enough to carry out the tasks we command but you need to learn to respect authority, this is your last chance boy. Our main intention with all this is not to give you what you deserve but to help reform you into respectable citizens in the new society who don’t put themselves above everyone else and who respect one authority and hold the needs of society closer than the selfish needs of themselves. So welcome to the Gulag you will be here awhile boy and you better straighten yourself up.”
[He looks at both Erik and Yuri and yells] “NOW BACK TO WORK…ALL OF YOU”
[The sound of clinking shovels are heard and Erik starts to dig next to Yuri as the second guard begins to walk back and forth across the stage as the other leaves]
Yuri: “I told you they’re bad but just do what they say and stay close to me, one day this will all end and we will be free maybe even find our ways back home, always remember that it will give you faith”
Erik: “I always will, thank you Yuri”
[The center light then goes off as the two smile and work and Yuri walks off stage and it comes back up to show Erik alone in the middle and the light changes to yellow and morning calm wind can be heard, the 2nd Guard is also on stage watching over Erik working]
[Erik stares at the audience and gives another monologue directed at them in a different older sounding voice] “Summer, 1954, but not the summer you’d think. Birds chirping, sun shining, green grass and flowers all around, not here in Siberia nothing changes around here the wind is just a bit quieter and the air is more brisk. But anyway I’m 26 now, 13 years in this place and nothing has changed, all day long everyday we just chunk up dirt that’s frozen solid to the ground and dig up the rocks beneath and move them to a big pile at the other end of the camp where they just sit there and get harder, sometimes when we discover boulders we take pick axes to them to make them smaller. We never even get to go inside for food they bring us stale loaves of bread for us to pick apart like savages but it still doesn’t satisfy our hunger it just increases it. I’ve seen many awful things in here, innocent men and women losing their limbs and skin to the frostbite and dying out here in the cold, harsh blizzards with the guards not even having the common decency to drag their bodies back to the barracks. They just let them dissolve into the ground for us to dig up and bury their bones over and over again until we go through the same. I’ve long lost my motivation since the death of my friend Yuri since they killed him, I know nothing of the rest of family, I don’t even know what’s happening in the world beyond this frozen rock we don’t get newspapers just letters from the evil overlords up in Moscow and that just tell the guards the same thing, push on nothing more. Even after the passing of the Minister of Death himself, Joseph Stalin, nothing has changed. I’m tired, I’m sick, but I’m surviving and I’m faithful as Yuri taught me but even that is fading away.
[It then jumps back into the play as Erik works and the main guard walks out with a piece of paper] Guard: “ALL OF YOU LISTEN UP, it is a day of change for the union as you all know our former leader and above all comrade Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin has died, and our new Premier Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev since taking office has made promises to keep guiding our country in a fair and prosperous direction. Especially with the USSR’s new nuclear defense initiative in this raging Cold War against the United States of America and their new President Dwight D. Eisenhower he promises to protect our fair Communist system against their immoral Western capitalist ways. But he has also advocated for the Human rights of Soviet citizens, that being you, and considers this camp a symbol of oppression and fear against all who have suffered and lived through it and today effective immediately you are all to be released as the Gulags have been declared no more”. [The Guard gives a look of remorse as a cheering sound effect can be heard]
[Erik then stares at the guard amidst the cheering and drops his shovel and walks away the guard then approaches him]
Guard: “Erik, Erik”.
Erik: “You know I’m not going to turn around I’m never looking back at this place again.”
Guard: “Erik you’re a strong willed worker and person, physically and mentally you have survived better than anyone else, we could use a man like you on our military”.
Erik: “Why do you need an army anymore with this whole arms race going on, it seems with nuclear weapons and defense all at the push of a button you don’t need the strong will and loyalty of brave good men anymore just like in here, I spit on your army and your union”.
[He then spits on his badge and the two guards beat him and the main holds a knife to his head and says]”Your lucky the laws have changed or I would take your life faster than you would ever realize, I was wrong your just a stupid weak boy like your friend Yuri who we rightfully killed and your family who you couldn’t save all those years ago, now go out into the snow and do us all a favor and die and you’ll realize that all your faith from all these years has just been a gigantic waste, like you, goodbye Erik”.
[The two guards then walk away and one of the other says]”Stupid boy”
[Erik then gets up and begins to limp out of the camp and yells] Erik: “IS THIS WHAT YOU WANT …WHY ME! [He starts crying and limps off stage]
[He limps on stage again and a new set of a town stops and begins another monologue toward the audience] Erik: “I’ve been walking for hours now through, snow and forest no sign of civilization or common decency. I’m just lost, broken, alone, tired and hopeless…most of all hopeless. I don’t know what I did to deserve this, but I’ve just accepted my fate…[sigh] I’m going to die I can feel the cold bitter wind eating at my skin and freezing up everything inside me my bones, my mind. There’s nothing I can do to stop it it’s going to kill me, I don’t know if I deserve to die or if I did anything wrong but if I did I’m sorry, I think I can try having one last sleep and at least I’ll die peacefully, goodbye.” [The character then jumps back again and falls into the ground out of fatigue and begins to sleep].
[The lighting then changes and weird dream music, yet dark and intense starts to play and weird lighting indicating it’s a nightmare/flashback]
[It then shows the Guard having a conversation with Yuri while the other guard watches Erik work]
Guard #1: “Now you see Yuri, this boy has been a nuisance to us lately we’ve heard him badmouthing our cause and we feel there is only one catalyst you. You’ve been here a long time and you know what we stand by now for but he does not and you’re poisoning his mind with your judgment of wrong and you’re ruining his chances of reformation. But we feel punishing you alone would be inferior to what we’ve decided. We will beat him in front of you as you care for him, it will fill you with guilt and knock the evil ideas out of his head before they spread, Guard.”
[The Guard pushes Erik on the ground and starts to stop him until Yuri gets up and pushes him on the ground but is shot by the other guard with a gun]
[The second Guard gets up and the first one says]”Well I suppose this should be punishing enough for you Erik and for him, now get back to work”.