‘What The Constitution Means To Me’ at Max & Louie Productions
- Written by Joanne Fistere
Heidi Schreck’s play “What The Constitution Means To Me” premiered on Broadway in 2019 and was nominated for several Tony awards including Best Play. That year it won the New York Drama Critic’s Award, the Obie Award, and the Off-Broadway Alliance Award for Best Play. I tell you this because apparently, at least according to these award giving bodies, this is a pretty good play. Heck, it was a finalist for the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for Drama!
It's a simple premise: As herself, Heidi Shreck begins by telling her story to the audience through the lens of both herself in the present and narrating her performance of her fifteen-year-old self as a Constitutional debater in 1989, when she gave speeches on what the Constitution of the United States meant to her in order to win prize money for college. Pictures of men on the walls and a WWII veteran onstage represent the competitions' judges and moderator. She talks about multiple parts of the Constitution throughout the play, but discourse about the Ninth Amendment is central to the show. Schreck also includes a deep dive into the Fourteenth Amendment, which discusses citizenship rights and what it means to be "American". Themes of sexual assault, domestic abuse, and immigration as they relate to the women in her family, to herself, and to others related to significant legal cases in American history are also woven throughout. There is no real plot to speak of though one could argue that it is a platform for Heidi to tell her family story and shine a light on the injustice of our constitution at the same time. The epilogue is an actual debate where a high school debater is brought on stage, we are witnesses to a debate and an audience member decides the winner.
The Max & Louie Production of “What The Constitution Means To Me” directed by Nancy Bell has Michelle Hand playing Heidi Schreck. Hand is a local favorite and if you saw her in “Tiny, Beautiful Things” (another Max & Louie Production) you’ve basically seen the same performance with different words. I applaud Hand for mastering the immense amount of memorization but I would have preferred she spent more time on layering emotional intention and kept the script in her hands. Her frenetic energy and rapid-fire delivery are not a replacement for genuine human connection. Isaiah Di Lorenzo as the Legionnaire is believable and understated in contrast and a refreshing alternative. The best part of the evening is the epilogue debate. We were treated to Aislyn Morrow who is articulate and convincing, and I would gladly buy a ticket to see her debate again.
The off kilter legion hall set design by Dunsi Dai creates a perfect nightmarish effect. Lighting designer Zak Metalsky helps us know which character shift we are witnessing with the deft light changes.
I wanted to like this play. But I never connected with the heart of it, Heidi. I did learn a lot about the constitution that I never knew before. But I also felt a little beat up by the end. I don’t think that was the playwright’s intention and I have a feeling in better hands I might have felt empowered. At least I hope so.
“What The Constitution Means To Me” from Max & Louie Productions at The Marcelle Theatre runs through April 23rd. For tickets and information go to the Max & Louie website.