Ottawa writer Sanita Fejzić’s Blissful State of Surrender is her first play but it doesn’t seem like one. Its world premiere at GCTC is impressive for a number of reasons. It accomplishes something rather rare in the theatre — it’s a drama that tackles “heavy” topics but which also successfully delivers flashes of comedy and even a few bits of slapstick.
The drama experienced by this Bosnian Canadian family is very real — they survived the Siege of Sarajevo, fled to Germany where, as “guest visitors,” their status was even lower than refugees, and eventually were accepted by Canada. The parents, Emir and Suzana (wonderfully played by John Koensgen and Zvjezdana (Dana) Užarević), bear the traumas of war and the wrenching adjustments refugee families face in the new Canadian home, particularly since their status changed from being well-educated urbane professionals to a maintenance worker and a secretary. In their bitterness, they constantly lash out at each other. But now they’re Canadian citizens, they own a home (more about the home in a minute) and they’ve raised three daughters. However, since their daughters are thoroughly Canadian, the parent/daughter clashes are epic.
On the surface, the three daughters are very successful. The oldest, Maja (Kate Smith), is a professor. The middle daughter, Senka (Andrea Massoud) is doing her PhD in clinical psychology. The youngest, Agata (Danielle Savoie) is turning 20 and seems poised to go to university as her parents wish. But this is all a sham. Maja has commitment issues and cut herself off from the family eight years ago. She has a long-time ex-boyfriend, Jidu (Anurag Choudhury) who has been trailing after her for ages. Senka suffers anxiety attacks and has a small pharmacy in her purse. She’s furious with Maja for abandoning the family. And she has a Bosnian Muslim fiancé who her mother thinks is just after a means to immigrate to Canada, and who she fears will force Senka to wear a hijab. (The family is nominally Muslim, but are definitely not following Islamic precepts… much alcohol is consumed during the play). And Agata has a brace of bombshell secrets she’s about to tell the family.
I’d mentioned comedy, hadn’t I? One of my favourite exchanges was between Suzana and Emir. She screams, “You’re not listening to me!” He replies, “You’re right — what, you still talking?” Another time, Emir says, “So my children spend all day on MeToo.” Senka corrects him, “You mean YouTube.” Oh, and watch out for the lamp in the living room.
Kudos to all of the creative team, especially the director, Bronwyn Steinberg, and the set and lighting designer, Jennifer Goodman. Goodman’s set is subtly perfect — all the furniture looks economical (maybe from The Brick?) but the huge carpet is magnificent. And the snowstorm raging outside is very convincing. Looks like Ottawa right now!
Blissful State of Surrender is well worth braving an Ottawa storm to see.
Blissful State of Surrender is playing at GCTC until March 6. Information and tickets are available online.