What The Constitution Means To Me, now at the New York Theatre Workshop, is, for all intents and purposes, a souped up TED Talk. This is not a bad thing. Just one to keep in mind in case you are looking for an actual play. This is not an actual play, but it is an EXCELLENT and passionate argument in favor of the Constitution. You know the constitution - the document being trampled upon by our present politicians. If nothing else, this show will send you to wherever it is you have to go to actually read it. And that may be closer than you know.
Heidi Schreck grew up in the midwest, or as my friend Jeff Hedquist calls it - Central America. When she was 15 she began giving talks on ye olde Constitution and used the money she earned to put herself through college. Recent circumstances caused her to ask mer mother to rummage about and send it to Heidi. No dice. Not to be found. This lead her to resurrect the talk on her own to rediscover what it was that fascinated her as a teenager.
We are introduced to her younger self in an American Legion Hall - the photos alone will choke you. But within minutes the child is jettisoned in favor of the woman who knows a thing or two.
Schreck is partial to a few particle Amendments - Amendment Nine says: “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” Which set us on the path of protecting the unknowable future. Just because the Constitution does not say a particular thing is protected does not mean that it is not.
Think about THAT.
Amendment 14 is where she spends most of her time because, we are told, it is a Bear. It covers citizenship, due process (the heart of Rose v. Wade) representation, insurrection practiced by an office holder (hmmmnnnn) and the public debt.
Schreck is willing and eager to get into the weeds here, and she is so adept and facile that we are willing to follow her. She tells the tale of the women more or less kidnapped from Massachusetts to be the wives of men in Seattle. When she detours into her own life - her grandmother was purchased by her grandfather for $75 - we go there as well. We are treated to a recording of Griswold v. Connecticut in which the Supreme Courts judges tip toe around the very idea of birth control you can hear them blushing. It is a painful reminder of the recent fiasco in the Senate where the Republicans would not even speak to Dr Christine Blasey Ford.
We have not progressed very far she seems to be telling us - but were we to pay attention to this profound document we all might be better off.
There are odd, unneeded elements included in this production. Schreck stands on her own, and the trappings of "pretend" could be eliminated without a hiccup. Mike Iveson is given the thankless task of fulfilling the part of the contest moderator. This is a part that is not needed, but Iveson makes the absolute most of it. Also not needed is the debate with a high school student - Rosdely Ciprian and Thursday Williams share this role. It is, however, encouraging to see a young woman thinking like a rocket scientist about the Consitutition.
All in all, Schreck's is an electric presentation. One only wishes she would be presenting it for a joint session of Congress. Not that they would listen, but osmosis would be bound to achieve something. Wouldn't it???
(Photo by Joan Marcus)
What the popular press says...
"Within the anxiety dream of a lecture hall that is the setting for What the Constitution Means to Me — the agreeably baggy and highly topical performance piece that opened Sunday night at the New York Theatre Workshop — the writer and actor Heidi Schreck is living out an assortment of roles. They include professor and pupil, class troublemaker and teacher’s pet, the woman in her 40s she is today and the 15-year-old girl she once was."
Ben Brantley for New York Times
"Heidi Schreck’s excellent close-to-solo show hasn’t changed much since its short run in Clubbed Thumb’s 2017 Summerworks festival: It is still delightful, still passionate, still data- and detail-rich."
Helen Shaw for Time Out New York
"Schreck is an engaging storyteller with a delivery that seems improvised even when she is sticking to her winding but always-focused script. Again and again, she manages to imbue her exploration of the politics of constitutional rights from the lens of the personal. And of the individuals left out as Americans saw their rights expand."
Thom Geier for The Wrap
External links to full reviews from popular press...