At one moment in their performance of the little play "Refuseniks," the Kozhevnikovs, comic actors recently released from the Soviet Union after three years of waiting, mimic the conversation of those who are still in the Soviet Union, waiting to get out.
"You want to go: You'll have to bribe someone . . . So you don't think they take bribes? Correct.They don't. But only so long as nobody offers. It's dangerous -- when nobody gives bribes, it's difficult for them to prove they don't take bribes. So the procedure is as follows:
"You give, they don't take. You leave, because if you don't leave then one might think they have taken; but you didn't give. Is it clear?"
"I didn't give! I didn't give!" said Evgeny Kozhevnikov, throwing up his hands and walking away.
Evgeny and his wife Olga are clowns, comic actors of unusual talent, and the play they performed Sunday night at the International Inn on Thomas Circle about refusenik life is a poignant, black comedy. But in their hotel room before the performance for the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews they spoke seriously, most of the time.
"The first thing that happens to you when you apply for a visa to leave is that you lose your job," says Evgeny, who is leaning against the back of a chair. He is wearing a green leather jacket and a checked shirt. He is smiling through his full beard. "But of course you cannot be without a job in the Soviet Union. It is a crime to be 'a parasite.' So you must try to get a job . . . ."
And there are the shadows. "When you walk along the street," Olga says, " a black car is slowly following you down the street. They will park in front of your apartment. They watch you leave in the morning. At night, you hear footfalls on the roof overhead."
Olga is a bright, energetic woman whose gestures are broad and heavy and emphatically Russian. But her thin frame and quick smile make her resemble the actress Sandy Duncan.
Of course, without work, the refuseniks have little or no money. They live in squalid flats without furniture, without curtains, without telephones, and with no shades for the bare light bulbs.
The Kozhevnikovs, with a humor typical of shtetl life, say that of course the lack of furniture was quite convenient -- they could fit more people in their 10-by-16 apartment for their little performances.
It was this performance which became quite famous on the underground network, and made them so popular that the Soviets felt perhaps they should be given visas after all, to get them out of the hair of the bureaucrats in charge of refuseniks.
"Some had it worse than us," Olga said. She mentioned Menjamin Bogolmolny, who is the longest of the long-suffering refuseniks. He in such circumstances -- the shrug.
As soon as they applied for the visa three years ago, they had to ask their boss for their employment papers and were required to give the reason they needed them. Their boss was kind enough to let them resign before he fired them.
They had fallen into the ranks of the 2,000 refuseniks and began to go to the Moscow synagogue on Saturdays -- the gathering place for refuseniks to trade stories and fears and jokes. They began to attend some demonstrations.
But of course it is a crime to demonstrate outside, so refuseniks hang from windows chanting and waving signs. The KGB is not allowed to break into private apartments.
Eventually, the Kozhevnikovs decided that their best protest would be on stage, even if the stage was 3-by-3, and even if the theater was one room of their one-and-a-half-room apartment. It had to be inside because a play outside would be a political crime, and it had to be free because if they charged, it would be an economic crime.
So they began to perform "The Life of a Refusenik," an underground diary written by the well-known Soviet Jewish poet Felix Kandel. To his diary they added folk songs -- Russian and Jewish -- and comedy sketches done in clown faces.
And Sunday night, from out of nonexistence in the Soviet Union the Kozhevnikovs played "Refuseniks" once again, 'for the 36th time, before 200 people attending the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews.
At the end of the one-hour performance, all were standing, many crying, and all applauding as loud as they could. For five minutes. Now, though the Kozhevnikovs have no jobs and no money for traveling, they hope to take their performance around the country, to Jewish groups and others who will have them, to anyone who wants to know about the ghosts of the Soviet Union.