Review: BLISSFUL STATE OF SURRENDER at The Great Canadian Theatre Company

Surrender yourself to this touching and funny tribute to family.

By: Feb. 27, 2022
Review: BLISSFUL STATE OF SURRENDER at The Great Canadian Theatre Company
Anurag Choudhury, Kate Smith, John Koensgen,
Zvjezdana (Dana) Užarević, Danielle Savoie
and Andrea Massoud. Photo by Andrew Alexander.

It is always exciting to have the chance to attend a play written by a talented local artist. Presented by TACTICS, Blissful State of Surrender is the first play by Bosnian-Canadian playwright, Sanita Fejzić. Fejzić fled the Bosnian genocide as a young child and spent some of her most formative years as a refugee in various European countries before ultimately settling in Ottawa with her family. Her personal experiences are reflected in her work and, given what is happening in Ukraine right now, it feels almost too close for comfort.

The opening scene shows a family reminiscent of my own: parents and children bickering. It must be a universally accepted fact that the former always think they know what is best for the latter. Much of the dialogue used in the beginning is in Bosnian, especially when the parents are speaking between themselves. I was initially a little startled and it had me asking myself if I was in the right place. Of course, I was feeling only an iota of the discomfort any refugee must feel when they arrive in a new country and are forced to learn a new language. There were a few English words thrown in here and there and I could get the general gist of what they were saying. Once the kids showed up, the discourse switched almost entirely to English.

The premise of the story is relatively simple at first: Senka (Andrea Massoud) and Maja (Kate Smith) have gathered at the family home to celebrate the birthday of their youngest sister, Agata (Danielle Savoie), who lives with their parents, Suzana (Zvjezdana (Dana) Užarević) and Emir (John Koensgen). Arriving with Maja is Jidu (Anurag Choudhury), a childhood friend.

Review: BLISSFUL STATE OF SURRENDER at The Great Canadian Theatre Company
Andrea Massoud, Danielle Savoie
and Kate Smith. Photo by
Andrew Alexander

Each of the characters has issues to work through. Senka discovers that her fiancé, a Muslim Bosnian, has been detained by border agents in New York en route to the celebration and Senka is understandably anxious. Her mother disapproves of Senka's fiancé, believing that he is merely using her to become a Canadian citizen. Maja has come back home after a lengthy absence to share some big news with her family, while Agata has some news of her own. Jidu harbours romantic feelings for Maja and is not sure that they will ever be fully reciprocated. Suzana and Emir must also find a way to talk about some of the horrors they faced in the war, as the strain of their repressed memories has caused some cracks in their relationship. Outside, a snowstorm rages, forcing everyone to remain indoors despite the often acrimonious atmosphere, until an event occurs that forces some of them to leave for a while.

Review: BLISSFUL STATE OF SURRENDER at The Great Canadian Theatre Company
John Koensgen, Zvjezdana (Dana) Užarević
and Anurag Choudhury. Photo by Andrew Alexander

The set design by Jennifer Goodman conveys the feeling of a warm, comfortable home setting beautifully. Blissful State of Surrender's award-winning composer, Suad Bushnaq, created music especially for the show and all soundtrack sales will go to help Bosnian children through Charity Bosnian Kids. The pre-show and intermission music also introduced me to Bosnian singer-songwriter, Dino Merlin.

I don't want to spoil the details of the plot, but I will say that the acting was excellent all around. At times it felt as though I was a voyeur looking into someone's living room window. I think that most of us can see some element of ourselves reflected in the mixture of yelling, squabbling, tears, tenderness, and love seen inside. Although the siblings may fight, when it really comes down to it, they stick together because they are family. Although Suzana and Emir do not agree with their daughters' choices, their love is demonstrated by the fact that they want what they truly believe is best for them.

Review: BLISSFUL STATE OF SURRENDER at The Great Canadian Theatre Company
John Koensgen and Zvjezdana (Dana) Užarević.
Photo by Andrew Alexander.

I'll share one last thought that I had on exiting the theatre: during a tragic scene, the language switches back to Bosnian; however, at this point I felt no confusion whatsoever. I could understand everything that was being said through the emotion and context in which the dialogue was delivered. This speaks volumes of the talents of the actors, playwright, and the director (Bronwyn Steinberg). I hope that this is the first of many more of Fejzić's works to come.

Blissful State of Surrender seamlessly blends drama and tragedy with comedy. It is a touching tribute to the strength and resilience of Bosnian families despite the harrowing events they have had to overcome. This show would be a lovely choice to reacquaint yourself with the joys of live theatre. It runs through March 6th at the GCTC; please click here for more information or to buy tickets.