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What the Constitution Means to Me/by Heidi Schreck/directed by Oliver Butler/Mark Taper Forum/through February 23

As soon as the ordinary theatregoer hears the title What the Constitution Means to Me, he may think "a boring two hours of history and politics! I get enough of that on a daily basis. I think I'll pass." Beware! Do not make such judgmental statements! Take a leap of faith and see this play. I found it scintillating; it educated and enlightened me. Now onstage through February 23 at the Taper, Heidi Schreck's in depth exploration is not a one person play about the contents of the Constitution. Yes, of course it presents facts, but the overwhelmingly violent issues at hand are extremely personal and relatable. In spite of its dark corners, it will surprisingly shower you with laughs and hopefully make you want to stand up and fight for human rights.

The play, first and foremost, is not a one woman show. There are two other characters that enter the scenario in quite a unique way, in a kind of play within a play. Schreck (Maria Dizzia) introduces herself and takes us back 30 years to when she was 15. She started to write speeches about the Constitution and performed them across country at American Legion halls to win prize money for college. She was exceedingly successful and put herself through college with the contest money. Her hometown was Wenatchee, Washington, and this is where the play takes place. There is contestant Heidi and a Legionnaire (Mike Iveson) who lays down the rules and keeps her on a rigid time schedule.

The play is layed out into two parts, the first being the Contest and the second, the Debate. Rather than recount all the stories, I would prefer to pick and choose the most relevant arguments that may stimulate you enough to attend the play.

It is important to mention.that within the contest, the participant must relate the Constitution to their own lives. Also, we are coerced to investigate the ninth and fourteenth amendments of the Constitution. The ninth introducing the viewer to our inalienable rights; the fourteenth, asserting that, apart from Native Americans, all citizens are to be protected under the law. Once Schreck gets going, we learn the flaws of that assertion. If you are a member of a minority class, are homosexual, or are...a woman, the law may be your worst enemy. Sexism and racism hang their ugly heads throughout the guarantees of human rights within the fourteenth amendment.

Schreck's mother's stepfather abused her and her sister, as well as her mother, Heidi's grandmother. When the police were called in, through fear, the grandmother denied the charges, putting her and her daughters in further danger. The most staggering fact of the play is that women are abused mainly by the men who supposedly love them.

Mike Iveson has a wonderful segment where he strips out of his Legionnaire clothes, becomes himself and talks about his friendship with Heidi. She wanted a strong male presence on stage. He, a latent gay man, feels somewhat inadequate and proceeds to fill us in on his background and the problematic bullying sent his way. This whole story serves to enhance Heidi's and make us see the fallacy of the fourteenth amendment as it affects both women and gays.

The thrid character in the play comes in the Debate section. Rosdely Ciprian is a current fifteen year-old who debates with Heidi about abolishing the Constitution as it stands in favor of a more utopian document. (Jocelyn Shek shares the role with Ciprian). The audience witnesses and appoints a judge to determine the debate's winner. On the night I attended actress Jennifer Leigh Warren happened to be sitting in the front row and was picked at random. She chose to keep the Constitution.

Under Oliver Butler's smooth and even staging, the actors are real and alive with passion and fire, making the material rich and of urgent consideration.

Bringing in a young girl to debate makes total sense within the context of the play. It first of all shows how advanced young minds have become.and serves to set the tone for our future generations of female citizens who must struggle to win their place of equality. Rosdely's quote below, for me, signals why everyone should go and see What the Constitution Means to Me.

"Throwing out the Constitution doesn't mean we would be throwing out sexism or racism. It would be at best, a superficial change. Democracy is not something that happens to us because we magically change a piece of paper. Democracy is something we have to make happen, we have to fight for, every single day. If you want to change the country, you need to wake up. Run for local office, run for student government. Protest. Put pressure on your representatives. Start with your own personal constitution and build your way out. Thank you."

(photo credit: Joan Marcus)

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