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What the Constitution Means to Me ~ The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

Jordan Wright
September 15, 2019 

I spoke with playwright and lead actor Heidi Schreck during her performance of What the Constitution Means to Me.  Though I did it silently, I wanted to jump out of my seat with fist raised and yell, “Right on, Sister!”  The audience seemed share the intensity of that emotion.  Schreck has tapped into a universal frustration with the American Constitution, its articles on immigration, slavery, legislating women’s bodies, the scourge of violence against women and, most especially, decisions made by the predominantly male members of the Supreme Court.

Heidi Schreck in WHAT THE CONSTITUTION MEANS TO ME at Broadway’s Helen Hayes Theater. Photo by Joan Marcus

The play opens with Schreck as a teenager and prize-winning debater of the Constitution’s intricate clauses and articles.  She puts forth her cogent and well-researched arguments about how this document was written – in a different day and age and by men who refused to give women, blacks and Native Americans the right to vote.  She tells of the women in her family who bore their husbands many children and who, under the laws of the day, were not granted any form of protection against the ongoing domestic violence they suffered.  By acting out these scenarios, sometimes hilariously, sometimes with a dead eye, she gives the history of how these inequities were allowed to flourish to protect men from being held responsible.  It’s a valuable history lesson for both sexes.

Heidi Schreck and Mike Iveson in WHAT THE CONSTITUTION MEANS TO ME at Broadway’s Helen Hayes Theater. Photo by Joan Marcus

Switching to her adult self, she chooses the word “penumbra” to put forth the argument that the constitution is stuck in a sort of limbo between darkness and light.  Citing Dred Scott v. Sanford, wherein African Americans could not become American citizens, she teases out the origins of these failed policies, and challenges the early notion of female “melancholia”, the diagnosis given to women with postpartum depression that saw them locked up in mental institutions by husbands who wanted to get rid of them.  This was before women had any legal protection whatsoever from their spouses, and, even so, it rarely takes into account the battered woman syndrome.

Using her own experience as a young woman facing an out-of-wedlock pregnancy, Schreck demonstrates how Roe v. Wade changed women’s lives freeing them up to make independent choices without the burden of unwanted pregnancies, and she examines the church-fueled history and current battles against this Supreme Court decision, explaining that at the time of its ratification, its basis was to sterilize black and Indian women so that white women could have more white babies.

Schreck vacillates between forthrightness and sheer, unadulterated charm by explaining, “I was raised to be psychotically polite.”  Women can heartily relate to this and men cannot help but acknowledge its truth.

Rosdely Ciprian, Mike Iveson and Heidi Schreck in WHAT THE CONSTITUTION MEANS TO ME at Broadway’s Helen Hayes Theater. Photo by Joan Marcus

In defending her position, she offers up unassailable historical facts and cites important legal cases to bolster her debate to an audience who responds with resounding cheers.  It’s no wonder this show was a finalist for the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Informative, funny and highly relatable.  Highly recommended.

Schreck appears with the original Broadway cast of Mike Iveson as The Moderator; Ben Beckley understudy; and Rosdely Ciprian as the young debater whose poise as a fierce debater proves to be a worthy competitor to Schreck’s skills as comedian and constitution ally.

Directed by Oliver Butler with Scenic Design by Rachel Hauck; Costume Design by Michael Krass; Lighting Design by Jen Schiever; and Sound Design by Sinan Refik Zafar.

Through September 22nd at the The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F St., NW, Washington, DC.  For tickets and information call 202 467-4600 or visit

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