Our Secrets takes us back to 1980s Budapest, during the days of Communist rule in Hungary. The characters are members of the Hungarian folk-music scene that emerged in the 1970s, doing ethnographic work in rural Hungary to revive traditional music and dance forms, which the government then reproduced and represented in state-run cultural houses. Communist Hungary’s dictatorship labeled the cultural acts and their corresponding community events throughout the country as either “banned,” “tolerated” or “supported.” The folk-music scene was labeled “supported” by the authoritarian government, therefore becoming a supposedly safe space for anti-Communist organizers to operate clandestinely, with little government oversight or interference to disrupt communications.
The plot of the show follows folk music collector István Balla Bán, who comes to realize that he is sexually attracted to his juvenile stepdaughter, Timike. Wracked with guilt and unsure what to do, István confides in a therapist only to be blackmailed by government spies who overhear his conversation. In exchange for not revealing his pedophilia to his family and community, he is forced to spy on a close friend working on the folk music scene who has been writing for an anti-Communist magazine. Caught between personal devastation and the inevitable arrest of his friend, István sinks deeper into despair.
Written and directed by Béla Pintér, Our Secrets explores the multilayered, difficult experience of life in Communist Hungary. Through its focus on the individual tragedies of those caught in the crossfire of government informants, it exposes the hypocrisy and violence of the Communist regime, which infiltrated every corner of society to stamp out any whiff of dissent and by any means necessary. The play also gives life to those who bought in to the violent regime either through opportunist motivations, surveillance and blackmail or ideological brainwashing, people who were unaware that the graves they were digging for others would turn out to be their own.
With painstakingly elaborate direction and a unique, innovative style, Our Secrets is an exposure of Hungary’s near past that has been missing from the stage as well as public life. In crafting a fictitious story of how informants might have been recruited, and how they and their subjects might have lived during this time, the play is also a provocation, asking why no post- Communist government in Hungary—neither left- nor right-wing—has released the names of those who spied and informed for the Communist regime. Pintér is brutally sincere as he speaks about our common hidden affairs, a set of traumas that underpin an entire society. In articulating the past, he relates to our present and future, showing how even today individuals in a society can be abused by governments acting in their own interests.