A Personal Look into Our Political History with What the Constitution Means to Me
Performance & Theatre
What The Constitution Means to Me
Pioneer Theatre Company
April 7 – April 22, 2023
Monday—Thursday, 7 p.m.
Friday & Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, 2 p.m.
I relish the moments when I can experience a new theater production in Utah, and I was pleased to see that What the Constitution Means to Me by Heidi Schreck was at my very own college, University of Utah. Many performances make an effort to transport you into another world but What the Constitution Means to Me traps us within our own reality. The stage is simplistic- a large wooden framed building with three walls, decor and a podium in the center. Notes of our own history and past transgressions as a nation come to the forefront of the performance. Laura Jordan as Heidi introduces herself with such confidence and poise that I was certain this was Heidi Schreck herself. Jordan represents a younger and older Heidi as she recreates the American Legion Oratorical Contest that she competed in as a teenager. Legionnaire played by Ben Cherry served as the judge and host of the contest, playing off of Jordan’s energy as a young Heidi as he asked her to recite clauses and amendments from the Constitution.
These contests were meant to develop a deeper understanding and appreciation for the Constitution among high school students. Jordan seamlessly flows between teenage Heidi and the present-day Heidi, who speaks to the audience about the importance the Constitution upheld not just within the debate and her personal life with an honesty that breaks boundaries. The Constitution and its many clauses inspired Heidi to look to the women in her life to see how the document shaped their lives.
A deep-rooted pathos makes What the Constitution Means to Me neither a lecture or speech but a highly personal take on the Constitution. The audience receives facts on landmark Supreme Court cases and stories about life and how the Constitution has affected our lives without us realizing it. Audio clips of actual Supreme Court discussions play on speakers above the audience, intermingled with laughter from the audience at the absurdity of it all.
Moments of sorrow and belly laughter pervaded Cherry and Jordan’s performances. The first half of the show has Heidi showcasing her vast knowledge of the Constitution through the lens of key events in her life. In the second half, Heidi is joined by another teen debater, Taryn Bedore. The two contestants must argue whether to abolish the Constitution or not. An audience chooses the contest winner, which was a nice touch.
What the Constitution Means to Me is forthright in its delivery. Each of the characters delves into aspects of how the Constitution has directly affected them and how it continues to do so for all of us. There were times when I was certain that this was a biographical presentation rather than a play that was being performed by actors. Bedore, Cherry and Jordan gave proper life to the characters on the stage that I believed that all of these events were true.
Through her play, Schreck asks audiences to challenge preconceived notions about the Constitution and acknowledges that the document needs revision since its creation in 1776. I could tell that the contentious topics were starting to become unsettling among some patrons in the audience. Abortion rights, LGBTQIA+ rights and women’s rights are discussed with passion and fervor using facts and personal experience. Some men in the front row were shaking their heads at Jordan making fun of the men on the Supreme Court. This show is more for them than for the people who agree with every point that Heidi made in her debate. What the Constitution Means to Me is not an attempt to indoctrinate viewers into believing a certain way but rather facilitating the space to say it is okay to open your heart and mind to the opposing view.
This sentiment was cemented at the ending of the show as Jordan and Bedore sat back-to-back onstage, reading more personal questions. Despite being opponents just moments before, the two were able to sit down and connect as people. Human and terrifyingly real, What the Constitution Means to Me imparts critical thought of everything we know and hold dear, and that can be intimidating, but just as in how the show scares you with reality, it also fills you with hope for the future.
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