Theater Review: 'What the Constitution Means to Me'

By: 
Ben Miles

Straight from Broadway—”What the Constitution Means to Me”—which has won awards for Best New American Play, is now onstage at Los  Angeles’s Mark Taper forum though Feb. 23. Inspired by the life experiences of Heidi Schreck, who wrote and starred in the New York Productions (both Off-Broadway and on Broadway), the LA production features Maria Dizzia as Schreck‘s character.

Throughout the 100-minute ( with no intermission) staging we learn that Schreck as a teenager earned enough money through Constitutional debate competitions, sponsored by the American Legion, to pay her entire college tuition. Her caveat that the college was a state school is typical of her story’s self-effacing wit.

Despite the earthy homily-like soliloquies offered by Schreck’s character, lending humble insight into her personal evolution, the comedy conceit of “What the Constitution Means to Me” is ably accompanied by a serious addressing of such lingering issues as women’s rights, immigration, and domestic abuse.

As Schreck’s character, with no adulteration, shifts between her current self as narrator and her fifteen-year-old self as immersed in Constitutional debate contests, which are moderated by an offbeat American Legionnaire (well played by Mike Iveson, who’s character also has a revelatory transformation), we come to understand Schreck’s personal dilemmas and political fury.

As a culminating event, the final 20-minutes of the show features a teen debater (a charming Rosdely Ciprian rotating performances with Jocelyn Shek) going head-to-head in a forensic display on Constitutional  topics, and ultimately on whether the Constitution of the United States should be kept or abandoned in favor of a new governing doctrine. Some of the issues broached in this portion of the play are: Why should we be governed today by the words and thoughts of men from the 1700’s?

Also, the point is made that during the period of the so-called Founding Fathers it wouldn’t be possible for two women to debate policy on a public stage. Nevertheless, if the Constitution is to be viewed as a living document as Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall noted in a 1987 lecture, why not work with and through that parchment, which has served us so well and for so long?

The audience is encouraged to demonstrate support for the points that resonate with them. And finally, a theatergoer is chosen to render a final verdict on who “won” the debate.

Directed by Oliver Butler, the production values of ”What the Constitution Means to Me”:are simple  (Rachel Hauck, scenic design; Michael Krass, costumes; Jen Schriever, lighting design; Sinan Refik Zafar, sound design), but the ideas are complex and timely.

”What the Constitution Means to Me” is an important, if not essential, piece of theater that’s in sync with the zeitgeist of our times. It’s appropriate viewing for teens. 

“What the Constitution Means to Me” continues at the Mark Taper Forum through Feb. 23.

The Mark Taper Forum is located at 135 North Grand Avenue, Los Angeles.

Reservation can be made by calling (213) 628-2772. For online ticketing and further information, including performance dates and deals, visit www.CenterTheatreGroup.org.

ben@beachcomber.news

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