Just before her 30th birthday, Bliss, an African-American doctoral candidate in anthropology, finds herself in crisis when she realizes that she doesn’t even know the truth of her own origins or heritage — which her white adoptive mother has steadfastly refused to share with her.
Unable to answer the simplest questions about the shape of her eyes or why she suffers from allergies, Bliss feels like an imposter in her chosen field; until a chance discovery offers a clue. After demonstrating a DNA cheek swab to her students, she receives a set of computerized results that seem to pinpoint a very specific type of Native American ancestry.
Desperate to claim her identity, Bliss offers her (currently estranged) mother one final chance to come clean about her origins, before breaking with her forever. She invites Laura to accompany her on a “vision quest” through the high desert of New Mexico — in Bliss’s mind, the only appropriate way to make contact with her Native American ancestors. She hopes along the way to elicit any information Laura has been hiding.
Laura, a second-tier musical theatre actress whose knowledge of the American wilderness is defined by OKLAHOMA, is totally oblivious to the gravity of Bliss’s quest. She views the occasion as a somewhat geeky, but valuable way to spend some quality time with her beloved (if difficult) daughter. When the sacred journey rapidly veers off the charted course on every level, mother and daughter find themselves forced to confront physical and emotional hurdles that both have spent a lifetime avoiding, including Bliss’ paralyzing fear of heights, and issues of race its place in their Mississippi family’s history.
KNOWING BLISS invites creative design and a physical or interdisciplinary interpretation (the NY run included several dancers embodying scenery and props, and an audio/video component).
BLISS was a National New Plays Network showcase winner in 2001. In 2005, it won first prize at MultiStages Theatre in New York, and received a 3-week showcase production at Clemente Soto Velez Cultural Center on the Lower East Side, featuring Blanche Baker McGill.