‘What the Constitution Means to Me’
“The US Constitution is not often Broadway fare—and for good reason: its place is in the National Archives, not Times Square,” writes David Cole. “How would you make it come alive on stage? Most playwrights, wisely, don’t try. But if you were going to make the attempt, the last thing you might do would be to build a play around a speech given by a high school student to an American Legion club. Yet that’s exactly what Heidi Schreck has done in What the Constitution Means to Me—with remarkable results. By turns uproariously funny, wrenchingly moving, critically challenging, and politically inspiring, this unlikely project is an entertaining and provocative piece of constitutional performance art.
“The play, showing at the Helen Hayes Theater, opens on a stage that is a timeless replica of an American Legion hall, with fake wood paneling, utilitarian metal chairs, a lectern, a huge American flag, and walls filled with framed photographs of former Legionnaires—all white men. It could be anywhere in America, but Schreck, who wrote and performs what is largely a one-woman show, tells us that this hall is in Wenatchee, Washington, where she grew up. As a fifteen year old consumed with lust, she explains, Schreck sublimated her adolescent libido by traveling around the Northwest competing in patriotic lecture competitions sponsored by the Legion. She won enough prize money to pay for college—though she hastens to add that this was thirty years ago, and she went to a state college.
“Schreck covers a wide range of personal, political, and cultural themes in her time on stage, encompassing her relationships with her mother and grandmother, the Court’s interpretation of the word “shall,” the culture of American Legion halls in the 1980s, and the reality of living as a woman in a world in which male violence is an ever-present threat. Her larger theme is justice, especially for women, but ultimately for all. And she poses this central question: Does the Constitution, whether conceived as a quilt or a cauldron, provide a way to achieve a more just world, or does it pose an impediment that principally protects the property and privilege of the white men who drafted and ratified it and their successors?”
For more information, visit constitutionbroadway.com.
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