What the Constitution Means to Me
James Lindhorst – Broadway World, April 16, 2023
Review: WHAT THE CONSTITUTION MEANS TO ME at The Marcelle Theatre
Max & Louie Productions current offering of WHAT THE CONSTITUTION MEANS TO ME, is the Tony Nominated Best Play and Pulitzer Prize for Drama finalist written by Heidi Schreck. Presented as an oration by the author, WHAT THE CONSTITUTION MEANS TO ME starred Schreck on Broadway, telling her personal story about her lifelong relationship with the U.S. Constitution and what she now believes are the pitfalls of the constitution specific to women’s rights and the rights of other marginalized populations.
In this production, Michelle Hand is mesmerizing as Heidi, driving nearly all of the play’s dialogue. Her indelible presence is captivating. She enters, introduces herself as Heidi and tells the audience about her mother’s vision to help her pay for college by winning VFW sponsored debates about what the constitution means to her. Throughout the play, Hand steps in and out of character as the adult Heidi, the 15-year-old Heidi, and as herself addressing the audience. As the play unfolds, she unpacks her thoughts on The Constitution, the Ninth and Fourteenth Amendments, and she tackles themes of women’s equality, reproductive rights, sexual assault, domestic abuse, immigration, and the decisions significant legal cases have had on women in the United States. Hand’s outstanding performance and her conviction for presenting Heidi’s dialogue is unforgettable. When she is playing Heidi, she completely disappears into the role and her electric oration of the subject matter is authentic and convincing.
Hand is joined on stage by Isaiah Di Lorenzo as a Legionnaire and, at this performance, 13-year-old MICDS High School student Maahi Saini as a teenage debater. Di Lorenzo fulfills multiple roles as the Legionnaire hosting the scholarship competition, as an ally for Heidi and her mother during their travel to the competitions, and as the debate moderator. When Di Lorenzo steps out of his Legionnaire character to share his story of how toxic masculinity affected him, it provides depth and balance by acknowledging that that all people, even men, may experience abuse and harassment.
Maahi Saini is a force of nature in her performance as the teenage debater taking on Hand to argue whether the constitution should be kept or abolished and re-written. Saini and Hand’s performances were so convincingly effective that the debate occurring near the end of the show seemed as if it weren’t scripted. Saini alternates performances and shares the role with two other young performers, John Burroughs 7th grader Riley Carter Adams and Grand Arts Center Student Aislyn Morrow.
Director Nancy Bell and her scenic design team of Dunsai Dai, Andy Cross, and Macheala Brock have created a set masterpiece. The entire play takes place in a VFW Hall with a podium, a few chairs and tables. Upon entering the theater, it is noticeable that the walls of the VFW Hall are not level, but it is what happens during the show that makes this set design so inspired. It creates a change in audience perspective. The longer one sits in the theater the more it appears the stage is raked (slanted) from right to left. By the end of the show, and through the magic of stagecraft, the set has played a mind trick on the audience. The audience’s perception of space is changed and they are convinced that the stage floor is actually slanted.
Shifting perspective is exactly what Schreck intended with WHAT THE CONSTITUTION MEANS TO ME. It is an exceptionally well written script and Schreck jokingly tells the audience “this is a well constructed play” throughout the show. Hand’s indelible performance is compelling in her conviction of Heidi’s words. This production frames current women’s rights issues and difficult topics in extraordinary entertainment.