“WHAT THE CONSTITUTION MEANS TO ME”: The North American tour of “What the Constitution Means to Me” has played at McCarter’s Matthews Theatre (December 7-12). Directed by Oliver Butler, the play depicts a debate between Jocelyn Shek (left) and playwright Heidi Schreck (Cassie Beck, right) about the merits — and deserved fate — of the Constitution. (Photo by Joan Marcus)
By Donald H. Sanborn III
The North American tour of What the Constitution Means to Me has played at McCarter’s Matthews Theatre December 7-12. Heidi Schreck’s play, which depicts a debate over the merits — and deserved fate — of the founding document, pulled the enthusiastic opening-night audience into the argument.
Schreck drew inspiration from a series of debates in which she participated as a teenager, giving speeches on what the Constitution meant to her. Money awarded at these contests helped pay Schreck’s college tuition. The play is set at one of the American Legion’s oratorical contests (in Wenatchee, Wash., where the playwright was raised).
A finalist for the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, What the Constitution Means to Me was commissioned by True Love Productions; the 2017 debut at the Wild Project in New York was followed by a West Coast premiere at Berkeley Repertory Theatre. An off-Broadway run at New York Theatre Workshop was followed by the 2019 Broadway production.
For much of the play the debate about the Constitution appears to be internal. Initially Schreck re-enacts her debate performance from the point of view of her 15-year-old self; although aware of injustice, she believes in the Constitution. (“I loved it. I was a zealot,” she recalls.) Later, as she learns more about the history of the country — and the women in her family — the adult Schreck angrily disowns her youthful idealism, rejecting long-ingrained beliefs. more