What the Constitution Means to Me
By Tina Farmer – Riverfront Times, April 10, 2023
The often funny and touching Max & Louie production brings our nation’s principles into the conversation
Playwright Heidi Schreck’s provocatively structured What the Constitution Means to Me takes us back to her teen years to posit the value the Constitution holds to us in 2023. Max & Louie Productions and director Nancy Bell ensure the show is funny, thoroughly engrossing and engaging by casting the effervescent Michelle Hand as the playwright.
As a teenager, Schreck spent considerable time touring the country and winning her college tuition as a debate champion. These debates were frequently sponsored by veteran’s organizations, such as the American Legion, and the contests were frequently held in their halls. The show is purposefully infused with the playwright’s memories and personal stories that teach audiences about the Constitution and its Amendments while emphasizing those marginalized or left out of the document.
The skilled Hand’s greatest gift is how effortlessly and completely she becomes her character, and it’s particularly satisfying to watch as the written character is sharp, witty and full of emotional depth. She completely integrates herself into Schreck’s character, and it is almost impossible to see when she shifts to performing as herself, though she announces the change quite clearly.
Scenic designer Dunsi Dai captures the slight dissonance that Schreck, an intelligent young woman, felt debating in front of the mostly older, white, veteran and male audience with a skewed, tilted-wall effect. The room seems bland and nondescript, though there’s something a little off. Director Bell elicits a similar vibe from Isaiah Di Lorenzo, who plays the moderator at the Legion hall. He turns out to be a kind and sensitive actor, who is then immediately put into the position of moderating an impromptu debate between Hand, now speaking as herself, and a local debate student. The night I attended, the captivating Riley Carter Adams was Hand’s debate partner. Aislyn Morrow and Maahi Saini alternate with Adams in that role during the performance run.
The quick paced, rapid fire one-act play is informative, educational and realistically funny. It is, however, not objective. I am certain there are potential audience members who may not agree with the lead character’s political views. Those who take strident offense to stories that don’t reflect a more socially conservative viewpoint may be offended. Discussion is clearly encouraged. The script and performances are intentional, the production team and playwright solicit feedback and questions. The company even provides a pocket-sized copy of the Constitution with each program as the audience enters the theater.
It has often been said that art should “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” Schreck’s well-written and reasoned play looks to cause a bit of discomfort in all of us. The play asks us to examine its central question and determine what it means, as individuals and as humans, to continue living under the principles and guidance of a 250-plus years old document that she studied and debated for years. What the Constitution Means to Me is thoughtful, provocative theater at its best because these questions come wrapped around a very human heart embodied by an exceptional performer.