Review: WHAT THE CONSTITUTION MEANS TO ME At The Phoenix Theatre Company

The production runs through June 16th at The Phoenix Theatre Company's Hardes Theatre in Phoenix, AZ.

By: Apr. 16, 2024
Review: WHAT THE CONSTITUTION MEANS TO ME At The Phoenix Theatre Company
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Even before Heidi Schreck was famous for her 2019 Tony-nominated play, WHAT THE CONSTITUTION MEANS TO ME, she was already famous as a two-time Obie Award-winning actress (2008 ~ Drum of the Waves of Horikawa, 2010 ~ Circle Mirror Transformation).

In 2016, I interviewed her as part of my coverage of Theatre Artists Studio’s production of Grand Concourse, another one of the prolific artist’s award-winning plays, in this case an enigmatic and spiritual tale about giving and forgiving. Schreck shared that her artistic vision traced back to her childhood when religion was a hot roundtable topic in her home (her father's dissertation was on Kierkegaard) and understanding God was paramount. Her evolution as an artist and her imagination were influenced as well by the great Russian writers (in her early career, she worked in Siberia and St. Petersburg as a journalist), most notably Dostoevsky and his inquiry into the nature of good and evil.

This level of consciousness and conscience, insightfulness and intelligence, permeates Schreck’s narrative in WHAT THE CONSTITUTION MEANS TO ME, now on stage at The Phoenix Theatre Company through June 16th and directed by Michelle Chin. It inhabits her probing examination of Section 1 of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. It culminates in a candid and painful assessment of what the very words and interpretations of that section have meant personally, not only for her but also for women, ethnic minorities, and the LGBTQ+ community.

As Heidi, Kate Haas bursts on to the stage with youthful exuberance, first as storyteller and ultimately as political critic.

Her story is complex and multi-faceted. In what is initially the adult Heidi’s reenactment of her idealistic 15-year-old self, raising money to finance her college education by debating her peers about the Constitution at American Legion halls, the narrative leaps into a critical discourse about the limitations and severe implications of the document for personal freedoms.

As critic, Heidi makes the politics of the Constitution very personal. While instructed by her Legionnaire judge and timekeeper (Rob Watson) to stick to the personal, Heidi delves into the history and verbiage of the document.

She defines the Constitution as a “crucible” ~ a “pot in which you put many different ingredients and boil them together until they transform into something else. Something that is sometimes magic. So, you see, our Constitution is like a witch’s cauldron.” (The intentional allusion to Arthur Miller’s play about the Salem witch trials and unbridled social hysteria is unmistakable.) There’s the irony, however: that, within this magical and majestic pot, the stew failed for far too long to extend ‘the blessings of liberty” to women.

That historic failure within the Constitution to provide adequate protections to women against economic, social, and physical abuse is reflected in Heidi’s narrative about her maternal ancestors. The trauma of their experiences challenges the audience to reflect more directly on how years of subsequent though still limited progress in advancing the position and rights of women have been derailed by recent Supreme Court decisions.

So, Heidi engages the audience in understanding how crucial the 14th Amendment’s Section 1 has been in protecting civil rights from the vagaries of State actions. With laser-like focus, she dissects the four key provisions of Section 1:

  • All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.
  • No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States;
  • nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law;
  • nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

The play is not political satire. It is an honest, discerning, and provocative reflection on the state of today’s polarized Union and how the interpretation of the Founders’ intentions and Constitution’s words have made all the difference in American lives. A necessary ~ and inspiring ~ reminder of where we, as a nation have been, and how far we have yet to go in realizing this nation’s full human potential.

WHAT THE CONSTITUTION MEANS TO ME runs through June 16th at The Phoenix Theatre Company's Hardes Theatre. Run time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

The Phoenix Theatre Company ~ ~ 602-254-2151~ 1825 N. Central Avenue, Phoenix, AZ

Photo credit to Billy Hardiman


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