Boundary-Breaking “What the Constitution Means to Me” to Make St. Louis Premiere

by Trich Muyco-Tobin, Gazelle Magazine, March 13, 2023

The highly acclaimed play, “What the Constitution Means to Me,” will make its St. Louis premiere next month to open Max & Louie Productions’ 2023 season.

The impactful and timely memoir by playwright Heidi Schreck, which premiered on Broadway in 2019, is a Pulitzer Prize finalist and Tony Award nominee for Best Play. It won Best American Play honors from the New York Drama Critics Circle and the Obie Awards, as well as Best New Play from the Off-Broadway Alliance Awards.

Max & Louie’s production runs April 6 to 23 at The Marcelle theater in Grand Center with a cast that includes St. Louis award-winning actor Michelle Hand, who plays Schreck in the boundary-breaking play.

Stellie Siteman, founder and artistic director of Max & Louie Productions, says it was important to bring the play to St. Louis to introduce “a beautifully crafted human story” whose message has become even more essential following three years of isolation from the pandemic and social change.

“Timing is everything in art as in life. If there ever was a time to artfully, provocatively delve into and dramatize the meaning and impact of the U.S. Constitution in our American democracy, it’s now,” Siteman said. “This is a moment in time when a lot of Americans are maybe especially aware of the Constitution, given the divisive and partisan ruling by the Supreme Court to overturn Roe.”

Siteman believes last summer’s Supreme Court decision overturning Roe is only the beginning of a potential showdown among justices that could further weaken the Voting Rights Act protections against racial discrimination, as well as the safety, fairness and security of American elections.

“Heidi Schreck asks a lot of complicated and deep questions about [the Constitution], peeling back layer after layer addressing abortion and its stigmatization, domestic violence, human trafficking, sexual assault and the many ways in which the document her 15-year-old self once loved has actually failed her and countless other women for generations,” Siteman said.

The story centers around a teenaged Schreck, who earned her college tuition by winning Constitutional debate competitions around the country. The play’s title is inspired by the prompt she received during these tours: Draw a personal connection between your life and the Constitution.

As Schreck, Hand resurrects the playwright’s teenage and present self to trace the profound relationship between four generations of women in her family and the founding document that shaped their lives.

“This play was written in order to be performed by the author, Heidi Shreck. Here was a real woman talking about her real life, the lives of her real mother and grandmother – a lot of the play’s wonderful sense of personal vulnerability derived from that fact,” said director Nancy Bell. “So much depends on the actor playing ‘Heidi’ and having worked with Michelle several times already – and seen her in many roles over the years, as well – I’m confident we can achieve that.”

As a theatre artist, Bell says she’s fascinated by subversive narratives that make the audience reexamine their assumptions about life, especially about what American life is like for women.

“Every once in a while, a play comes along that manages to do that – that’s this play. It’s extraordinarily ambitious in its political intentions, while maintaining a kind of approachable tenderness and humor that is pretty special,” Bell said. “Add to that the fact that St. Louis happens to be home to an extremely skilled actor in Michelle Hand, who is perfect for the lead role and who is as passionate about it as I am – I just could never resist this opportunity.”

Along with Hand, the rest of the cast includes Isaiah Di Lorenzo, Riley Carter Adams, Aislyn Morrow and Maahi Saini.

Among the highlights is in the play’s final act, when ‘Heidi’ is joined onstage by a teenage debater who squares off against her in an intelligent, passionate, well-prepared debate about the country they are inheriting and whether the Constitution should be kept or abolished.

“Although there are lessons to be learned and truths uncovered, the play is not a dry political lecture by any means,” Siteman said. “Heidi Schreck ends the play with a question, not an answer, about what we want the future of our country to look like. The play is an invitation for people to draw a connection between their own life and the document, and commit to understanding and answering the call of one’s responsibility to engage, just like Heidi does in the play.”