Santa Fe Playhouse May 9 – June 2, 2024

By: May. 17, 2024
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Santa Fe Playhouse in coming into its own as the theater company most likely to succeed in Santa Fe. The past two seasons have showcased new talent, new and provocative works and productions that have both wide appeal and thought-provoking messages. Their latest offering, What the Constitution Means to Me, is no exception. Directed with precision by Lynn Godwin, the Playhouse production adds one more hit to their incredible run of the past few years.

Written in 2017 by Heidi Schreck, this Pulitzer-Prize for Drama nominee tells the tale of Heidi and her experience as a champion teenage debater whose focus was, well, what the US Constitution meant to her. Apparently she was pretty good at it and made enough scholarship money to go to college. Heidi, played masterfully by Kate Udall, converses with the audience and brings them back in time to her teenage experience on the debate stages of American Legions and Veterans Halls of the Pacific Northwest, while inserting stories  about the generations of women in her family and their experience. Heidi points out that women are not mentioned in the Constitution, nor are minorities or members of the LGBTQ community. It is through this lens that we hear the stories of the women in her family, including tales of domestic abuse, rape, abortion and immigration. She relates their personal tales to various amendments and historic legal battles and creates a compelling argument for whether or not the Constitution is still a living document that serves all Americans.

Udall is engaging and wows in this role. Over the course of the 90-minute one act play, she interprets about 95 percent of the script. To learn and embody that much text is impressive, even more so because she seems so comfortable, approachable, and natural – she draws us in, takes what could be a very dry history lesson and makes it into a thoroughly engaging story.

Udall is joined onstage by a Legionnaire, played by Jonah Scott Mendelsohn,  and a Debater, played by either Ariana Roybal or Shaunti, two teens from Santa Fe who share the role (Shaunti was on the night of this review). It’s clear these characters are here to support Heidi, and also to give her a minute or two to breathe onstage. Both supporting players are up to the task and both provide very natural performances. They help to put the audience (and Heidi) at ease. Mendelsohn’s soliloquy about his experience with masculinity and sexuality was especially thoughtful.

The action of the play culminates in a debate between Heidi and the Debater, each taking a side on the subject “Should we keep the current US Constitution or abolish it and start over?” They flip a coin and take a side. The audience gets to participate here, with a single audience member deciding which side won, whether the Constitution should stand or fall. It was an interesting twist and the timing of the debate lands perfectly, after almost an hour of analysis of the document. I heard many audience members wondering if the sides were the same each night or if both Heidi and the Debater had to have both sides prepared and at the ready.

Once the debate ends, the Debater picks an audience member to decide the fate of the Constitution, hands them two envelopes and asks them to read the message inside the envelope of their choice, Keep or Abolish. Our LGBTQ teen was the lucky audience member chosen and chose to abolish, to the loud boos of several older Caucasian men, (ironically enough). My son later told me “if the Constitution doesn’t mention me, or you, Mom, or people of color or anyone who is a minority, why should we keep it? Interesting food for thought.

That’s the best part of this show, really, the discussion that continues almost a week after we watched the play. The nuances both my children keep finding and the questions they keep bringing have made for some lively conversations. Both are still scanning their free copies of the Constitution that came with the price of admission, trying to figure out the best way to move this country forward.

On the technical side, the set and lighting is wonderfully executed by Jared Roberts and fully gives American Legion Hall vibes. The lighting design has a bit of that institutional flavor that it should have for the inside of a legion hall, but also flatters the actors onstage.  The stern wall of black and white photos of a bunch of white guys (what a surprise) in uniform helps to reinforce the dialogue onstage as well.

Kudos to the team at Santa Fe Playhouse for bringing What the Constitution Means to Me to Santa Fe. It is a must-see for anyone who is questioning where we are heading as a country and what we can do to keep democracy alive. To that end, the Playhouse is offering free student tickets to the first 50 students under 21 who use the code FUTURE when purchasing tickets (tickets limited and first-come, first served. They are also offering $5 Rush Tickets are for the rest of the run space permitting. The waitlist will open 30 min before showtime and tickets will be released 5 min before showtime. What the Constitution Means to Me runs through June 2.


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