A New York Theatre Guide to... What the Constitution Means to Me!
Here's all you need to know about the most politically charged presentation on the Great White Way...
Ever since premiering at Clubbed Thumb’s Summerworks festival at The Wild Project in the summer of 2017, after being commissioned by True Love Productions, the success of Heidi Schreck’s What the Constitution Means to Me has snowballed its way to the pinnacle of New York City’s theatre scene. Following a limited run at California’s Berkeley Repertory Theatre in late spring 2018, the play returned to New York City and was mounted at New York Theatre Workshop for an extended engagement in the fall of 2018, before transferring to the Greenwich House Theater for an additional five weeks. Finally, the stars aligned for a Broadway transfer and the show would open at The Hayes Theater on March 31, 2019, following previews from March 14… to rave reviews and an outpouring of love for Ms. Schreck, who is currently nominated for two Tony Awards – “Best Play” and “Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play”. So, what is about this commercially unlikely piece that has made it into a bona fide Broadway hit?
What’s it all about?
What the Constitution Means to Me is a piece that is as political as it is personal. You might describe it as a sort of fascinating history lesson cum family memoir. And make no mistake, it’s also a bold trailblazer in contemporary feminism. At the start of the show we meet the play’s author and performer, Heidi Schreck, who walks onto the set of an American Legion Hall with monotonous rows of portraits of old white men on display. She informs us that, for the first part of the show, she will turn herself (with no theatrical trickery necessary) into her fifteen-year-old self, who used to deliver speeches about the US Constitution to old white men at such venues across the States, in order to raise money and put herself through college. For all intents and purposes, we must become these old white men and listen to the ‘teenager’ give her thoughts on the document, founded centuries ago by a group of… you guessed it… old white men. The play takes a more personal turn as modern day Heidi in her late 40s delves into the maternal history of her own family, dating back to her European immigrant great grandmother. She openly discusses how the women in her family have survived through physical abuse and rape at the hands of men, whilst all the while reminding us that the US Constitution, intended to protect us all, never even once mentions the word ‘woman.’ The play ends as she is joined on stage by an African American girl, a real-life debater from today’s young generation, and the two enter into a formal Parliamentary debate over whether or not the Constitution should be abolished.
Who’s starring in it?
Although What the Constitution Means to Me could easily be presented as a one-woman monologue, the effortlessly appealing Heidi Schreck is joined on stage by Mike Iveson, who acts as the contest moderator. His performance is disarmingly charming, especially when he is given the opportunity to shed his uniform and reveal aspects of his true self to us. Heidi’s ‘opponent’ in the final debate is played by one of two high school students – either Rosdely Ciprian or Thursday Williams, depending on the night. All these performers are currently making their Broadway debuts.
What’s special about this production?
What the Constitution Means to Me is a truly unique theatrical experience, unlike anything else the Great White Way currently has to offer. It’s not a traditional play by any means, but it is the most entertaining form of an education you’ll likely ever experience in adulthood. As a performer, Ms. Schreck often gives you the sense of an unscripted, off-the-cuff approach and the emotion in her arguments and her recollections comes across as raw and earnest. As a writer, however, the whole play is incredibly well scripted and every segment has its purpose, earning its rightful spot. It argues both for the Constitution and against some of its despairingly misogynistic and outdated aspects and if nothing else, it will encourage you to ask yourself where you stand or compel you to brush up on ye olde document for yourselves. It’s also extraordinarily encouraging to see a young teenage girl speaking her mind, intelligently and eloquently about notions that will primarily affect her generation and unborn generations for years to come. Broadway isn’t just for jazz hands but for hands that can help to build a better future as well.
Who would we recommend it to?
If you have friends that maybe share different points of view from you politically, why not invite them to What the Constitution Means to Me... and get the debate going? If you’re a feminist, this is your university. If you’re a proud American, this is your school. And if you’re a theatre lover, Heidi Schreck is your master class.
What the Constitution Means to Me Tickets are available now.
(Photos by Joan Marcus)