By Sam West ’20
Dim light shines on the stage. All of it, ropes and wings unmasked. On the back wall an enormous audio tape begins to play. From Hungary’s leading theater company, Béla Pintér and Company’s play Our Secrets offers a window into 1980s communist Hungary, examining the lives of friends, lovers and parents, and how they are torn apart by their opposing ideologies. Sometimes cacophonous and discordant other times sweet and lamenting, its folk score intermingles with dialogue, setting the mood and at times revealing it, even to the characters themselves. The play celebrates traditional Hungarian folk music and dance at a time when artistic expression was under strict censorship. But most importantly, it is about the secrets we keep, the things we wish to keep in the dark, and why; it is at moments touching, hilarious, and often disturbing.
The play follows Itzván–in a broken marriage and, with his stepdaughter, a twisted relationship–who tries to hide a dark and disturbing truth. His actions and efforts to keep his secret make audiences cringe. But as much as we may want him punished, we too dread the possibility of the secret being told, preferring instead that it remains hidden, in shadow, and forgotten. So we are conflicted when Itzván must decide to either go to jail or spy on his friend for the communist government. This friend, Imre, somewhat estranged from his son and first wife, secretly publishes an anti-communist newsletter, kept hidden from his communist-sympathizing partner, Bea. The two struggle to maintain their love when Imre seems unable to share all of who he is with Bea, including his ideology and his child.
The tension of things unrevealed is ever-present, looming above the characters and audience, drawn together in a hope for things to stay as they are, unchanged by concealed realities. “None of us is perfect, and each one of us has his own secrets, no doubt. None of us is flawless…But we are sane fanatics of reality, living a treadmill of good compromises.” Thus Comrade Pánczél alludes to the choices we make, governed by the things we know to be true and for the “greater good,” whatever we justify that to be. We weigh the consequences and choose a path, convinced it is best, for the answer must be absolute.
The play ends and the giant tape slows to a stop. Was it playing the whole time? Or was it recording? Maybe both.
About the contributor
Sam West is a ’20 from Los Angeles, California, hopes to major in theater, and can occasionally be seen singing with the Subtleties.