Heidi Schreck’s What The Constitution Means To Me just had one of its Broadway performances released through Prime Video. First premiering in 2017, Schreck’s (almost) one-woman-show comes to a digital platform at an extremely relevant time with the United States election underway. Beginning with the high-energy framing device of Schreck reliving her high school days of debate competitions, the award-winning play may seem like a playful buzz of intellectual exploration at first, but it is not long before it sinks its teeth in for an emotionally harrowing dissection of American policy.
The atmosphere of the play is quickly established- endless framed pictures of soldiers creating the walls of a Legion Hall, a simple podium, and Mike Iveson, the only other actor in the show, overseeing the debate with a stern tongue and bell rings. These coupled with Schreck’s barely contained adolescent exuberance as her fifteen-year-old self makes for a clear world. Schreck maneuvers back and forth fluidly between her adolescent and current selves, going from impassioned analogies of the constitution as a magical crucible to reflections on these parts of her past. It’s a structure with loose walls, but it serves the ideas and her energy as an actor well.
It is the intense dichotomy between the first and second halves of the play that give it its profundity. While it’s clear from early on that the glaring holes of the constitution and the ways that the marginalized fall through them are going to be addressed, there is a hope and playfulness at the start that gives way to brutal focus on the ways Schreck and the women of her family have been affected. Systemic abuse, rape, misogyny, and the clear injustices of the constitution are tackled with Schreck’s precise intellect that echoes the delivery of the debate portion. At the early stages, young Schreck is asked how she personally connects to specific amendments of the constitution, and this gradual shift that sees how deeply and darkly that connection runs hits extremely well.
Mike Iveson’s role in the show deserves special note. While seemingly only there for structure’s sake and some stoic levity early on, Heidi Schreck addresses him partway through the show out-of-character in saying how glad she is to have some “positive male energy.” Iveson slowly removes his costume as he reveals his own identity as gay, and moves quickly from playful cracks to expressing the reality of his own interactions with straight men throughout his life, these stories situated right near Schreck’s own tale of sleeping with a boy in college solely out of a fear of saying no. Iveson’s transition from the terse and humorous debate moderator to his own gentle and caring self feels like a microcosm of the play as a whole, and his sharing of experiences opens up the scope of who is affected by these ingrained issues of America perpetuated by straight, white, men of wealth.
It may sound like the play becomes an emotional slog, but far from it. Schreck peppers in relief from the dark, informational rabbit hole throughout the course. And it is the very last leg of the play that displays the brightest light What The Constitution Means To Me has to offer. Following a powerful and timely audio clip of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Schreck brings out a young debater, Rosdely Ciprian, to go debate whether the constitution should be abolished or not. The audience is implored to cheer or boo based on their feelings, and one member is chosen to judge the winner at the end. The agency and awareness pushed on the audience are great, but to see a young woman of colour be given an international stage to discuss the errors of her country and fight for the future she wants is a powerful statement that encapsulates exactly why Heidi Schreck made What The Constitution Means To Me.