Entertainment » Television

Review: 'What The Constitution Means To Me' Means A Lot Right Now

by Karin McKie
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Oct 13, 2020
Heidi Schreck in 'What the Constitution Means to Me'
Heidi Schreck in 'What the Constitution Means to Me'  (Source:Amazon Studios)

I love solo theater shows, exquisite blends of stand-up, simplicity, speed and stark honesty. Writer/performer Heidi Schreck hits that sweet spot with her riveting "What the Constitution Means to Me," directed by Oscar-nominated Marielle Heller ("A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood" and "Can You Ever Forgive Me?") and available on Amazon Prime.

Luckily, the 100-minute, intermission-less show had been taped before COVID hit, capturing the Tony Award-nominated production in front of an enthusiastic audience at the Helen Hayes Theater on Broadway. As a teenager, Schreck has earned her college tuition by debating aspects of the Constitution around the country. She steps back into the shoes of the kid, who grew up in the shadow of Mount St. Helens, to continue to share her prowess about the document that guides one of the oldest democracies in the world. Not only could she recite (and interpret) chapter and verse of the aging document, but she was also obsessed with Patrick Swayze, theater, and the Salem witch trials, threads that are woven into this intricate narrative.

"The Constitution is a crucible," she says. "A witch's cauldron."

For the American Legion oratory contest, she was asked to make a personal connection to her life and the document, and she notes that "202 years ago in Philadelphia, the founders wanted to kill each other but sat down together instead," steps she's urging her audience and the country to enact today.

Schreck skillfully morphs into her present-day self, a feminist grappling with the American legal system and the laws that failed her family when trauma and violence visited. She and her foremothers were raised to be "psychotically polite," so she relied on the knowledge of her rights when trouble brewed.

The U.S. Constitution is primarily constructed on negative rights, she explains, words that are meant to protect the men who wrote it as well as their property, rather than positive rights like the right to an attorney, or the right to healthcare offered by most other first-world nations.

Schreck mixes in recordings of male Supreme Court justices pontificating on female reproductive autonomy, along with the glorious words of Ruth Bader Ginsberg in her own careful voice. The play outlines why the United States is one of the most dangerous places for women to live, and the playwright reflects on the women in her family's "covert resistance," a sane response to living in a violent culture and country. At least 179 countries have gender protections, but America doesn't.

The script has marvelous meta moments, like "I'm a bad storyteller because I skip to the end," "it's not my fault if you can't see my structures," and, to another actor who briefly plays some male roles: "he can't stop me because I didn't write anything for him."

Like many, Schreck maintains the Constitution is a living document, not a hot mess like the electoral college, and that it should evolve from the times of air baths and bloodletting.

"The dead should not control the living," she reminds, then recounts Lincoln's thought that we "shouldn't throw out the Constitution, but throw out the men who abuse it."

Keep those good thoughts, and this thought-provoking play, in mind as we get our souls to the polls in the next few weeks.

"What the Constitution Means to Me" premieres on Amazon Prime Oct. 16.

Karin McKie is a writer, educator and activist at KarinMcKie.com

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