The Review: NYTW’s What the Constitution Means to Me
On what just happened to be one of the most dreadfully upsetting days in American political history since that horrendous last election, I found myself being thrust headfirst into a debate centered around the Constitution and the impact it and the male dominated Supreme Court has and continues to have on a woman’s body. We are told, upfront by the dynamic star and creator, Heidi Schreck (Grand Concourse) to think of ourselves as a pack of old cigar chomping white men sitting in attendance of a fifteen-year-old young lady giving a speech about the Constitution of the United States. It’s a smart and inventive setup, this recreation from Schreck’s own history, a production commissioned by True Love Production (Torch Song). It is formulated around a traditional competitive debate given by wise teenagers that is basically the originating seed for this powerful evocative new play What the Constitution Means to Me to grow strong, now being presented at the New York Theatre Workshop.
This auditorium scenario, designed with detailed dimension by Rachel Hauck (Broadway’s Latin History for Morons, Ars Nova’s The Lucky Ones), with simple straightforward lighting by Jen Schriever (Broadway’s Eclipsed), solid sound design by Sinan Zafar (Waterwell’s Hamlet), and exacting costumes by Michael Krass (Broadway’s Noises Off) is not the be all and end all of this creation. It is simply a jumping off point to a place that triggers a strong emotional response for all involved. It is at times hard to fathom the delusion of these men in power, and frightening as well. As directed with a free-flowing and creative hand by Oliver Butler (Vineyard’s The Amateurs), it hits us deep and sharp, almost as complicated as the ripples of distrust and pain that strike through Schreck, shaking and overwhelming her composure that feels, most definitely, out of the box. This deeply personal oration resonates within her soul and ours, as deeply as how dysfunctional this country that I call home discovers it is. It’s terribly upsetting, especially the well-choosen audio bits and pieces that are shared, but they are required listening, and I’m thankful for Schreck’s thoughtfulness.
Mike Iveson (Public’s Plenty) gives Schreck a much-needed support system, while alternatively adding a structural and creative dynamic that adds and floats the piece up higher than one expected, adding layer upon layer. It is a greatly needed construct, one that I’m trying hard to not disclose the surprise and inventiveness, that adds alternative vistas to the ride, bringing me personally into the room a tad bit more than I already was. Rosdely Ciprian, a well-spoken firecracker and member of her school’s debate team joins in to the conversation midway through, breathing some youthful energy and spunk into a debate that is in dire need of happening across this country (Ciprian [T/Th/Sa] shares the part on alternate performances with Thursday Williams [W/F/Su]). This young lady is brilliant and commanding, and I look forward to the day she rules the world.
Dramaturg Sarah Lunnie (Broadway’s A Doll’s House, Part 2) makes sure we stay on track and on solid ground, but the effortless grace of Schreck, pulling hard from her past experiences and history, solidifies the experience in such a compelling and moving way that one can’t help but be moved. This is the conversation that must happen, as the debate outside the NYTW is spiraling out of control, and missing the point for the majority of this country’s citizens. It lightens my load, seeing the smart and funny What the Constitution Means to Me, although my broken heart stays confused and perplexed in these trying times. Disheartened and frustrated, hoping for change next month, I applaud Schreck for giving us a debate that feels so pure and required.