Heidi Schreck, a writer and performer who’s worked on shows like “Nurse Jackie” and “Billions,” has delivered a show that seems to be ripped from the headlines — despite being a work in progress for the better part of a decade.
In “What the Constitution Means to Me,” which opened Sunday at the New York Theatre Workshop, Schreck recounts her experience as a 15-year-old in Wenatchee, Washington, competing for prize money at American Legion halls across the country in speech contests about the U.S. Constitution. “I was able to pay for my entire college education this way,” she says. “Granted, it was a state school. And a really long time ago.”
Faster than you can say Brett Kavanaugh — a name that surprisingly never crosses her lips all evening — Shreck jumps between embodying her teenage self (and her previous obsession with everything from the Salem witch trial to Patrick Swayze) and the modern fortysomething. It’s the latter who’s able to reflect on her accumulated knowledge of both her family history (with women surviving both domestic abuse and abortion) and her more grown-up understanding of American history (particularly how constitutional protections often did not extend to women and minorities).
And she gradually begins to show how her girlhood ideas about the Constitution have evolved over time. “Maybe we shouldn’t think of the Constitution as a crucible in which we are all fighting it out, because if it’s a battle then the people who have always been in power — men, white people — will continue to dominate and oppress,” she says at one point. “Maybe instead, we could start thinking of the Constitution as a kind of ur-mother, whose job it is to look out for the most vulnerable among us.”
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.
Toward the end, Schreck brings out a young New York City high schooler for a brief, formal debate with her on whether we should scrap the U.S. Constitution and start from scratch. The wonderfully composed 14-year-old Rosdely Ciprian astonished at my performance (she alternates with Thursday Williams). Despite the depressing state of the news (and our Twitter feeds) about the fragility of our democracy, Ciprian sends the audience out with an almost buoyant hope for the future.
Read the rest of the review on TheWrap.