What the Constitution Means to Me
By Richard T. Green – Talkin’ Broadway, April 11, 2023
What the Constitution Means to Me is receiving a lovely revival this month in St. Louis, thanks to Max & Louie Productions
I never got to see the Broadway run of What the Constitution Means to Me. It was sold out when I was planning a trip to New York, six months before the recent pandemic. The show first premiered at Summerworks in 2017 and opened on Broadway in 2018. But, in a way, even that Broadway production may have only been a trial run itself, because What the Constitution Means to Me has become more topical following the Supreme Court decision to erase Roe v. Wade. The one hundred-minute play was written by (and originally starred) Heidi Schreck. It’s receiving a lovely revival this month in St. Louis, thanks to Max & Louie Productions, under the direction Nancy Bell at the Marcelle Theatre.
This is a modern memory play about the combustible mix of our American ideals: funny and sad and jaw-dropping in all the ways we have failed to live up to it all. It’s framed within the story of a nice teenage girl from the middle of Washington state who was able to pay for her college tuition by winning contests about the importance of the United States Constitution, staged at American Legion halls back around 1989.
Along the way, the play also shows how her Constitution talk gave Ms. Schreck the wisdom to survive her own rise to womanhood. In this recollected version, we learn how her personal heroes sustained her in the way they navigated far greater struggles than hers or ours. After she went to college, her mother threw out that original prize-winning speech. However, that tidiness proves unexpectedly freeing for the grown-up Heidi.
No longer tied to the precise wording of her money-making spiel, “Casting Spells: The Crucible of the Constitution,” present-day Heidi, as played by the enchanting Michelle Hand, is forced to mental abstraction in the moment. The evening takes flight, and a discussion of the Fourteenth Amendment becomes (at least implicitly) tailor-made for today’s post-Roe politics, along with several other hot-button issues and the emotional arguments simmering over every cultural advancement.
“These people are not the people they will become,” she reminds us, and a mystic intensity fills the room, along with her words. But she’s referring to both the oppressors and the oppressed in American history, and some peculiarly American hopefulness that seems in particularly short supply today. The promise of the personal evolution of each of us enlists us in her sometimes ecstatic monologue (which later becomes a jazzy dialogue).
Isaiah Di Lorenzo is perfect as Ms. Hand’s back-up, playing a moderator for the high school presentation at a legion hall. Later he will moderate a much faster-paced debate between Heidi and a teenager in the present day, finishing off the show with a bang (thanks to director Bell). Maahi Saini was delightful on this particular night, persuading us to throw the whole Constitution right into the dumpster, as a document of “negative rights,” merely telling the government what it cannot do, instead of being a bold statement of all of humanity’s affirmative rights.
On other nights, the role of the teenager is played by either Riley Carter Adams or Aislyn Morrow, on Dunsi Dai’s stirring, yet surreal set: an elegant pictorial Valhalla that seems to have crash-landed on the Marcelle stage. Only at the last minute, after having our most fundamental beliefs as Americans thrown into question, do we cast a group vote on the fate of the revered document.