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Off-Broadway Review: “What the Constitution Means to Me” at New York Theatre Workshop (Through Sunday November 4, 2018)

Photo: Heidi Schreck in “What the Constitution Means to Me.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: “What the Constitution Means to Me” at New York Theatre Workshop (Through Sunday November 4, 2018)
By Heidi Schreck
Directed by Oliver Butler
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

After greeting the audience at New York Theatre Workshop, playwright Heidi Schreck introduces her play “What the Constitution Means to Me” as follows: “When I was 15 years old, I travelled the country giving speeches about the Constitution at American Legion halls for prize money. This was a scheme invented by my mom, who was a debate coach, to help me pay for college.” For ninety minutes, Ms. Schreck rehearses those speeches not for prize money but to remind the audience that the Constitution has been less protective of human rights than its drafters intended and to warn the audience that the main culprit in this diminution of protection is the Supreme Court of the United States.

This is a daunting (and daring) suggestion. To prove her point, the adult Heidi morphs (non-physically) into her fifteen-tear-old self to deliver her speech “Casting Spells: The Crucible of the Constitution” to the “audience of older— mostly white— men” at the American Legion Hall in Wenatchee, Washington and to the somewhat more diverse audience at New York Theatre Workshop where “What the Constitution Means to Me” runs through Sunday November 4, 2018. Ms. Schreck transitions between past and present, between her fifteen-year-old self and her adult self. This convention allows her to both focus on the speech and on her feelings about the Constitution “then and now.”

The “grit” of Ms. Schreck’s play comes when Heidi “draws an amendment from a can, in full view of the audience and has to speak extemporaneously on this amendment.” Ms. Schreck’s husband Mike Iveson plays the role of the American Legion moderator “Mike.” After parsing Amendment Nine (“The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people”) in her speech, Heidi pulls Amendment Fourteen Section One from the can for the second part of her challenge.

Amendment Fourteen, Section One states “All persons born or naturalized in the United States and
subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” In an electrifying performance, Ms. Schreck ricochets between decade and generations to describe how this Amendment has been interpreted since its adoption on July 9, 1868 as one of the Reconstruction Amendments. “Interpreted” here means more than mere jurisprudence: it means degraded, misconstrued, mis-applied resulting in the erosion of human rights over the years since 1868.

This is a challenging play and an important one. Directed by Oliver Butler, Ms. Schreck uses every tool of rhetorical argument to make her case and leaves the audience members wondering: “where have we been as our rights have been threatened and how much more will the High Court diminish those rights in the present and future. Discoursing on both the Ninth and the Fourteenth Amendments, the playwright and performer dissects the history of Roe v. Wade and how that decision affected her life and her family history.

“What the Constitution Means to Me” closes with Heidi debating with a NYC High School student Rosdely Ciprian and then spending time answering preselected audience questions to become better acquainted. This part of the play is less satisfying than the first and lessens the impact of that beginning. Overall, “What the Constitution Means to Me” is a chilling reminder of the importance of being an informed citizenry. Reading the Constitution of the United States is the first step. A copy is provided to each audience member. Let the learning begin.

WHAT THE CONSTITUTION MEANS TO ME

The cast for “What the Constitution Means to Me” includes Heidi Schreck, Mike Iveson, and New York City high school student Rosdely Ciprian.

“What the Constitution Means to Me” features scenic design by Rachel Hauck, costume design by Michael Krass, lighting design by Jen Schriever, and sound design by Sinan Zafar. Dramaturgy is by Sarah Lunnie (Literary Director, Playwrights Horizons). Terri K. Kohler serves as stage manager.

“What the Constitution Means to Me” runs at New York Theatre Workshop (79 E. 4th Street New York, NY 10003) through Sunday November 4, 2018) on the following performance schedule: Tuesday- Thursday at 7:00 p.m., Friday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., Sunday at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Single tickets for “What the Constitution Means to Me” start at $35.00 and vary by performance date and time. For further information, visit https://www.nytw.org/. Running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Heidi Schreck in “What the Constitution Means to Me.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, October 26, 2018