What the Constitution Means to Me
Michelle Kenyon – Snoop’s Theatre Thoughts, April 8, 2023
Max & Louie’s Thought-Provoking “Constitution” Makes a Memorable Impression
How well do you know the United States Constitution? This document is the basis for our country’s government, but not everyone knows exactly what’s in it, or how it should be interpreted. At Max & Louie Productions’ latest staging of Heidi Schreck’s Pulitzer-nominated What the Constitution Means to Me, they’re passing out little booklets containing the entire Constitution, so you can read it for yourself. You also get to witness a heavily thought-provoking, highly personal presentation based on the playwright’s own experience, acted out by a some excellent local performers and providing for a challenging, thoroughly fascinating evening of theatre.
This show was originally performed by Heidi Schreck herself along with the original cast, and it was filmed for Amazon Prime. I’ve seen the Prime version, which is excellent, but it’s a new experience to see Heidi portrayed by a well-known local performer, Michelle Hand, along with Isaiah Di Lorenzo as a Legionnaire and a trio of young students (Riley Carter Adams, Aislyn Morrow, and Maahi Saint) alternating as the Debater, who participates in a one-on-one competition with Hand at the end of the show, debating about whether or not the Constitution should be abolished. The story itself follows Heidi’s experience participating in a series of contests in her high school years in order to earn money for college, with many digressions about her family and her life since high school. The contrasts between her understanding of the Constitution as a teenager vs. later are highlighted as Heidi tells stories from her own personal experience, as well as those of her mother, grandmother, and great-great grandmother, along with bringing up a series of historical incidents and Supreme Court cases (complete with actual audio recordings). The general theme is of the Constitution as a flawed document that wasn’t written with all Americans in mind, excluding women and people of color specifically. While it was written with the ability to be amended, and there have been many amendments, the idea is raised that it might be a good idea to start over and write a new Constitution.
Also in a departure from the original version, Hand participates in the debate as herself, and not as Heidi, which works well here, as Hand’s rapport with Adams (the Debater I saw) is excellent, and their mutual respect shines through even in the midst of intense debate. I assume this rapport is present with the other Debaters, as well. In the main story, Hand is also excellent as Schreck, not exactly copying her mannerisms but conveying her personability, humor, and emotion with strong stage presence and clarity. Di Lorenzo is also strong as the Legionnaire, who acts as moderator of the teen Heidi’s contest and also has some surprises in store as the story veers more and more from the original narrative. Adams is also impressive as the Debater, giving convincing arguments and demonstrating great enthusiasm for the subject.
Technically, the show recreates an old American Legion hall with a twist, with a simple and effective unit set by Dunsi Dai that features a lot of wood paneling and scores of serious-looking photos of men, skewed at an angle suggesting the photos may slide off their shelves at any minute. This works as a suitable backdrop for the proceedings. There’s also strong work from lighting designer Zak Matalsky and sound designer Phillip Evans. The direction is thoughtful and well-paced, with many emotional highlights, and underscoring the personal connection that Heidi has formed with her former teen self and with the Constitution and her ideals.
What the Constitution Means to Me is a highly thoughtful, personal, and thought-provoking show, and it raises good points for keeping the Constitution and for abolishing it and starting over. No matter what an individual viewer’s opinion may be on this subject, I think this is a show worth seeing, with an excellent, highly likable cast and strong production values. It’s sure to raise questions and lead to interesting conversations, as well as making audiences think and examine how this country has treated its citizens over the years, and how we can strive to do better.