What the Constitution Means to Me

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What the Constitution Means to Me
Written byHeidi Schreck
Date premiered2017
Place premieredNew York City
Original languageEnglish
SubjectConstitution of the United States
GenreComedy
SettingAmerican Legion Hall in Wenatchee, Washington

What the Constitution Means to Me is a 2017 American play by Heidi Schreck.[1] The play premiered on Broadway on March 31, 2019 at the Hayes Theater, with Schreck herself in the leading role.[2] Over the course of the play, Schreck addresses themes such as women's rights, immigration, domestic abuse, and the history of the United States.[3] Schreck varies the time period in which the play takes place, performing some scenes as her modern self and others as her fifteen-year-old self participating in Constitutional debate contests.[4] What the Constitution Means to Me has received accolades such as a nomination for Best Play in the 73rd Tony Awards and a finalist spot for the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.[5]

Overview[edit]

Heidi Schreck begins the play by communicating her story to the audience through the lens of both herself in the present and narrating her performance of her fifteen-year-old self as a Constitutional debater in 1989, when she gave speeches on what the Constitution of the United States meant to her in order to win prize money for college. Pictures of men on the walls and a WWII veteran onstage represent the competitions' judges and moderator.[6][7] Schreck talks about multiple facets of the Constitution throughout the play, but discourse about the Ninth Amendment—which Schreck refers to as the “penumbra” of the Constitution, quoting former Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas—is central to the show.[8] She also includes a deep dive into the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution, which discusses citizenship rights and what it means to be "American".[9]

Schreck also addresses themes of sexual assault, domestic abuse, and immigration as they relate to the women in her family, to herself, and to others related to significant legal cases in American history.[10] She shares her own experience in getting an abortion when she was in her 20s and fearing sexual assault during college.[11] Schreck discusses the abuse of her mother and her grandmother, Bette, by Bette's husband. She also includes the story of her great-grandmother, who was sent from her home country to the U.S. after being purchased from a magazine by her future husband in Washington state.[7] Shreck's great-grandmother was eventually admitted to a mental hospital for “melancholia” and died at the age of 36.[12]

Schreck highlights what she now sees as the pitfalls of the Constitution. Mainly, she argues that the Constitution does not protect all Americans because it was not created to protect all Americans—it is largely concerned with negative rights and not limiting the actions of white men.[13] Actor Mike Iveson moves out of his role of the WWII veteran and shares his own experience in regards to his sexuality and experience with masculinity.[14] The play ends with a dialogue, moderated by Iveson, in which Schreck engages with a local high school debater on whether or not the U.S. Constitution should be abolished and replaced; this debate and its conclusion were unique to each live performance.[15] The audience plays the role of the jury in this debate, with one audience member being selected to deliver a final verdict.[15]

Productions[edit]

What the Constitution Means to Me was first produced at the Wild Project, in Summerworks, Clubbed Thumb's (New York City) festival for new plays in June to July 2017 in a co-production with True Love Productions.[16][17] Schreck was contracted by True Love Productions in their new play commissioning program, writing What the Constitution Means to Me for her submission.[18]

The play was presented at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, California, from May 3, 2018 to June 17, 2018. Schreck starred, with Danny Wolohan as the moderator "Danny", and direction by Oliver Butler.[19][20]

An Off-Broadway production of the play premiered at the New York Theatre Workshop on September 12, 2018 and closed there on November 4, 2018 (in an extension of one week),[21][22] before moving to the Greenwich House on November 27, 2018 where it closed on December 30, 2018.[23] The play was again directed by Oliver Butler, and the cast featured Heidi Schreck, along with Mike Iveson as the moderator, and Rosdely Ciprian and Thursday Williams as the play's featured high school debaters.[24]

A limited Broadway run of the play began on March 14, 2019 in previews at the Hayes Theatre, with the official premiere on March 31. The run was extended to July 21, 2019. Directed again by Oliver Butler, the cast features Heidi Schreck, Mike Iveson, Rosdely Ciprian, Thursday Williams, and Ben Beckley.[1][25] The production's Broadway run was again extended in April 2019 to a final closing date of August 24, 2019.[26]

An engagement of the play, starring Schreck, took place at Washington D.C.’s Kennedy Center (Eisenhower Theater) from September 11, 2019 to September 22, 2019.[27]

The play ran at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles from January 12, 2020 to February 28, 2020, and then at Chicago's Broadway Playhouse March 4, 2020 to April 12, 2020 (closed prematurely due to the COVID-19 pandemic).[28] The play is then expected to tour in the US, in Charlotte, Hartford, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and others to be announced. This tour featured a new leading lady, taking the starring role that Schreck has performed.[29] Maria Dizzia played the main part at the Los Angeles and Chicago venues.[30] The text has been tweaked to reflect the fact that Dizzia is not Heidi, but only playing her.

On September 17, 2020, it was announced that the play would premiere on October 16, 2020 on Amazon Prime Video, having been filmed by Marielle Heller.[31]

Creation[edit]

Schreck first thought about generating a play like What the Constitution Means to Me in the 1990s.[32] The first iteration of the play came in the form of a short 10-minute presentation that Schreck performed at benefits nearly ten years after her initial idea for the show.[32] Although the premise of the play is based on Schreck’s own life, she did not initially set out to write a role for her to play;[32] her initial motives included getting Americans to consider contemporary judicial issues through the lens of the Constitution itself, and to provide a grounds for conversation of those issues facing women today.[11] When asked about the concept of victimhood in her play, Schreck stated, “…stories hold our cure.”[33]  Although the play seems to be improvised to a certain degree, Schreck sticks heavily to the letter of her script, adapting occasionally to integrate the most relevant contemporary references.[33]

Context[edit]

Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh[edit]

The play’s discussion of women’s rights seemed especially pertinent to audiences in 2018, in light of the then-ongoing U.S. Senate hearings to confirm Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court.[34] In an article for The New York Times, Ben Brantley wrote, “Ms. Schreck’s show… never mentions Mr. Kavanaugh by name. But his invisible judiciary presence is there, affirming many of her implicit arguments, which are often indistinguishable from her deepest fears about a document with which she has had a long and complicated relationship.”[6] Schreck noted that the percentage of audience members voting in favor of abolishing the Constitution during the vote at the play's end rose dramatically during the Kavanaugh hearings.[15]

Women's issues[edit]

What the Constitution Means to Me also covers issues including women's equality and abortion, particularly through Shreck's own experience in getting an abortion and the stories of the abuse her mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, and other women in American history have faced from husbands and fathers.[7] The play notes that women's issues, including abortion, are not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution at all.[35]

Immigration[edit]

The play addresses themes of immigration as they relate to the history of Schreck’s family, particularly her great-grandmother, who came to the U.S after being purchased as a wife in a magazine.[7] The idea of being a “good immigrant” is also included throughout the play; reviewers have noted the importance of this theme in parallel to President Donald Trump’s anti-immigration rhetoric.[36]

Critical response[edit]

In reviewing the 2018 Off-Broadway production, Thom Geier of The Wrap wrote: "Schreck is an engaging storyteller with a delivery that seems improvised even when she is sticking to her winding but always-focused script. Again and again, she manages to imbue her exploration of the politics of constitutional rights from the lens of the personal. And of the individuals left out as Americans saw their rights expand."[37]

Critic Sara Holdren writes in New York Magazine that What the Constitution Means to Me is a "...brilliantly crafted show, harrowing and funny and humane, that accesses the political through the deeply personal."[7]

Ben Brantley of The New York Times noted, "More artistic choice could have been taken in the production of the play; but the whirlwind, all-in-one-breath nature of the play echoes the feeling of desperation that permeates Schreck's storylines."[6]

Kyle Smith in National Review provides a conservative point of view, writing, "Schreck describes the Constitution the way a Harlequin Romance novelist might describe a night with Fabio: a 'living, warm-blooded, steamy document. ... It is hot and sweaty.' ... The language is instructive: The more you shroud and occlude the plain meaning of the document, the more you claim it to be cloaked in voodoo, the better. That way the actual, brief, lucid charter can be shunted aside in favor of a fantasy document, one that has all of those 'positive rights' liberals wish were guaranteed forever. These rights need to be established by the Constitution because otherwise liberals might have to win them through the ballot box, and that would mean persuading their fellow Americans. It’s much easier to do what this show does: gather a few hundred progressives each night in a Broadway bubble and get them whooping and cheering about everything they have won for themselves in their imaginary Constitution."[38]

Honors and awards[edit]

Year Award Category Nominee Result
2019 Lucille Lortel Awards[39] Outstanding Play (Off-Broadway) Nominated
Obie Awards[40] Best New American Play Won
Off-Broadway Alliance Awards[41] Best New Play Won
Drama League Awards[42] Outstanding Production of a Broadway or Off-Broadway Play Nominated
Distinguished Performance Award Heidi Schreck Nominated
Outer Critics Circle Awards[43] Outstanding New Broadway Play Nominated
New York Drama Critics' Circle[44] Best American Play Won
Drama Desk Awards[45][46] Outstanding Play Nominated
Outstanding Actress in a Play Heidi Schreck Nominated
Tony Awards[47] Best Play Nominated
Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play Heidi Schreck Nominated
2020 GLAAD Media Awards[48] Outstanding Broadway Production Nominated
2021 Critics' Choice Television Awards[49] Best Television Movie Nominated
Directors Guild of America Awards[50] Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Variety/Talk/News/Sports – Specials Marielle Heller Pending
Producers Guild of America Awards[51] Outstanding Producer of Streamed or Televised Motion Pictures Nominated

Pulitzer Prize[edit]

The play was a finalist for the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The committee wrote: "A charming and incisive analysis of gender and racial biases inherent to the U.S. Constitution that examines how this living document could evolve to fit modern America."[52]

Other[edit]

The play was named by Time Magazine in their 10 Best Theater Performances of 2019, as number 5. The magazine's comment: "Schreck is a wonderful comedic actor, and her timely explanation of the intent, flaws and meaning of the Constitution arrived on Broadway at the moment in our nation’s history when we needed it most."[53]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Stasio, Marilyn (March 31, 2019). "Broadway Review: 'What The Constitution Means To Me'". Variety.
  2. ^ "What the Constitution Means to Me Broadway @ Helen Hayes Theater - Tickets and Discounts". Playbill. January 17, 2019. Retrieved December 5, 2019.
  3. ^ Larson, Sarah (June 26, 2017). "In Heidi Schreck's New Play, Teen Girls Talk About the Constitution". The New Yorker. ISSN 0028-792X. Retrieved November 21, 2019.
  4. ^ Collins-Hughes, Laura (October 12, 2018). "Enraged by Their Times, Women of Ambition Seize the Stage". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved November 26, 2019.
  5. ^ Clement, Olivia. "Tony-Nominated 'What the Constitution Means to Me' Extends Again on Broadway" Playbill, April 30, 2019
  6. ^ a b c Brantley, Ben. "Working on a More Perfect Union." New York Times 168.58103 (2018): C2. Web.
  7. ^ a b c d e Holdren, Sarah (October 14, 2018). "It's Not Just Rhetoric". New York Magazine. Archived from the original on October 29, 2018.
  8. ^ ProQuest 2200521348 Marks, Peter. "Seeing Broadway’s ‘What the Constitution Means to Me’ feels like a patriotic act. Here’s why.: It’s the perfect moment for a play about the legal document, and Heidi Schreck is the perfect interpreter."] 2019. Web. US Newsstream.
  9. ^ Marks, Peter. "Only in D.C.: Section 1 of the 14th Amendment is an Applause Line." The Washington Post, September 13, 2019, Web. November 23, 2019
  10. ^ ProQuest 2200796919 McNulty, Charles. "Review: Unconventional ‘What the Constitution Means to Me’ supremely argues the case for women." 2019. Web. US Newsstream.
  11. ^ a b McGuinness, Max. "Falling Out of Love with the US Constitution: Playwright Heidi Schreck." FT.com (2019): n/a. International Newsstream. Web.
  12. ^ McNulty, Charles. ProQuest 2200796919 "Review: Unconventional ‘What the Constitution Means to Me’ supremely argues the case for women." 2019. Web. US Newsstream.
  13. ^ Soloski, Alexis. "Thirty Years Later, A Few Amendments." Gale in Context: Biography. Feb 24, 2019. Web. Nov 14, 2019
  14. ^ Clement, Olivia (June 19, 2019). "Why What the Constitution Means to Me Decided It Needs a Man Onstage". Playbill. Retrieved 2019-11-23.
  15. ^ a b c Holdren, Sara. "What What the Constitution Means to Me Means to Them." New York 52.5 (2019): 96-100. Web.
  16. ^ Larson, Sarah (26 June 2017). "In Heidi Schreck's New Play, Teen Girls Talk About the Constitution". The New Yorker. Retrieved 1 April 2019.
  17. ^ "Productions Summerworks 2017". Clubbed Thumb. Retrieved April 3, 2019.
  18. ^ "Commissions" trueloveproductions.com, Retrieved April 4, 2019
  19. ^ What the Constitution Means to Me berkeleyrep.org, accessed April 2, 2019
  20. ^ Janiak, Lily. "At Berkeley Rep, Constitution is ‘steamy,’ but ‘Constitution’ is hazy" San Francisco Chronicle, May 12, 2018
  21. ^ " What the Constitution Means to Me Off-Broadway" theatermania.com, Retrieved April 1, 2019
  22. ^ Clement, Olivia. " What the Constitution Means to Me Extends Again at New York Theatre Workshop" Playbill, October 17, 2018
  23. ^ "What the Constitution Means to Me Off-Broadway" lortel.org, Retrieved April 1, 2019
  24. ^ "What the Constitution Means to Me" nytw.org, Retrieved March 31, 2019
  25. ^ Clement, Olivia. " What the Constitution Means to Me Extends on Broadway" Playbill, March 31, 2019
  26. ^ Clement, Olivia. "Tony-Nominated 'What the Constitution Means to Me' Extends Again on Broadway" Playbill, April 30, 2019
  27. ^ McPhee, Ryan. "Heidi Schreck to Bring 'What the Constitution Means to Me' to Washington, D.C., After Broadway Bow" Playbill, June 20, 2019
  28. ^ Hetrick, Adam. "Heidi Schreck’s Tony-Nominated 'What the Constitution Means to Me' Announced for Mark Taper Season" Playbill, May 2, 2019
  29. ^ Hetrick, Adam. " 'What the Constitution Means to Me' to Launch National Tour" Playbill, June 3, 2019
  30. ^ Meyer, Dan. "Tony Nominee Maria Dizzia to Star in What the Constitution Means to Me in L.A. and Chicago" Playbill, October 15, 2019
  31. ^ "The Award-Winning Play "What the Constitution Means to Me" Written by and Starring Heidi Schreck and Captured on Broadway by Director Marielle Heller to Premiere Exclusively on Amazon Prime Video October 16". The Futon Critic. September 17, 2020.
  32. ^ a b c Soloski, Alexis. "Thirty Years Later, A Few Amendments." Gale in Context: Biography. Feb 24, 2019. Web. Nov 14, 2019
  33. ^ a b [https://www.scribd.com/article/390798424/It-S-Not-Just-Rhetoric Holdren, Sara. "It's Not just Rhetoric: What the Constitution Means to Me Charts a Way Forward for Politicized Theater." New York 51.21 (2018): 142-6. Web.
  34. ^ Collins-Hughes, Laura (2018-10-12). "Enraged by Their Times, Women of Ambition Seize the Stage". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-11-26.
  35. ^ Collins-Hughes, Laura (2018-10-12). "Enraged by Their Times, Women of Ambition Seize the Stage". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-11-26.
  36. ^ McNulty, Charles. ProQuest 2200796919 "Review: Unconventional ‘What the Constitution Means to Me’ supremely argues the case for women." 2019. Web. US Newsstream.
  37. ^ Geier, Thom. "'What the Constitution Means to Me' Theater Review: A Timely Blend of the Political and Personal" The Wrap, October 1, 2018
  38. ^ "Progressives and Their Imaginary Constitution". National Review. 2019-05-08. Retrieved 2020-02-12.
  39. ^ Gans, Andrew. "Nominations for 34th Annual Lucille Lortel Awards Announced; 'Carmen Jones' and 'Rags Parkland Sings the Songs of the Future' Lead the Pack" Playbill, April 3, 2019
  40. ^ Clement, Olivia; McPhee, Ryan. "Heidi Schreck's Constitution, New York Theatre Workshop Among 2019 Obie Award Winners" Playbill, May 20, 2019
  41. ^ Clement, Olivia, " 'What the Constitution Means to Me' and Yiddish 'Fiddler on the Roof' Among 2019 Off-Broadway Alliance Award Winners" Playbill, May 22, 2019
  42. ^ McPhee, Ryan. Annette Bening, Bryan Cranston, Stephanie J. Block Among 2019 Drama League Award Nominees" Playbill, April 17, 2019
  43. ^ Clement, Olivia. " 'Hadestown' Leads 2019 Outer Critics Circle Nominations" Playbill, April 23, 2019
  44. ^ McPhee, Ryan. " 'Tootsie', 'The Ferryman', 'What the Constitution Means to Me' Win 2019 New York Drama Critics' Circle Awards" Playbill, May 6, 2019
  45. ^ McPhee, Ryan. "Nominations for the 2019 Drama Desk Awards Announced; 'Oklahoma!', 'Tootsie', 'Rags Parkland' Lead the Pack" Playbill, April 25, 2019
  46. ^ Fierberg, Ruthie. " 'Tootsie', 'Hadestown', and 'The Ferryman' Lead 2019 Drama Desk Award Winners" Playbill, June 2, 2019
  47. ^ McPhee, Ryan. "2019 Tony Award Nominations: 'Hadestown' and 'Ain't Too Proud' Lead the Pack Playbill, April 30, 2019
  48. ^ "The Nominations for the 31st Annual GLAAD Awards". glaad.com. Retrieved June 10, 2020.
  49. ^ Schneider, Michael (January 18, 2021). "'Ozark,' 'The Crown' and Netflix Lead 26th Annual Critics' Choice Awards TV Nominations". Variety. Retrieved January 18, 2021.
  50. ^ Lewis, Hilary (March 8, 2021). "DGA Awards: 'Ted Lasso,' 'Curb Your Enthusiasm' Score Two TV Nominations Apiece". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved March 8, 2021.
  51. ^ Hill, Libby (March 8, 2021). "'Bridgerton' and 'Ted Lasso' Among PGA Awards TV Nominees". Indiewire. Retrieved March 8, 2021.
  52. ^ "Drama. Heidi Schreck" pulitzer.org, retrieved April 15, 2019
  53. ^ Shapiro, Eben. "The 10 Best Theater Performances of 2019" Time, December 1, 2019

External links[edit]