A woman is at home in an isolated house by the sea. It is night, and she sits on the terrace. When a car turns in toward the house, the woman gets a gun. When she hears her husband's voice, she puts the gun away – until later. This is the opening of Ariel Dorfman's play about Paulina Salas, an imagined survivor of political violence by the former military government of her Latin American country. Under that regime she was kidnapped, secretly detained, repeatedly raped, and otherwise tortured. Paulina's husband Gerardo Escobar is a distinguished lawyer; Paulina surmises correctly that her husband has agreed to head a truth commission that will investigate those – and only those – human rights violations that ended in death; those that are, as the play describes them, “beyond repair.” Because Paulina survived her torture, her story will not be heard and her case will not be investigated.
Gerardo, who, returning home in a rainstorm, had a flat tire on the highway, invites the stranger who drove him home to stay the night. Paulina believes this “good Samaritan” is the physician who raped her and presided over her torture when she was kidnapped and held in detention by the state. Paulina believes she recognizes his voice and phrases, and, when she gets closer, his scent. While Gerardo sleeps, Paulina takes Dr. Roberto Miranda captive; she knocks him unconscious, binds him to a chair, mocks and humiliates him with sexual taunts, and proceeds to interrogate him and terrorize him with threats of death if he does not confess.