Keri Tombazian Reviews The Mark Taper Forum's Production of "What the Constitution Means to Me"

You Do Not Want To Miss One Of the Most Important Plays Taking The Stage in Los Angeles

January 24, 2020
What The Constitution Means to me

Who knew back in 2017 when Heidi Schreck’s What the Constitution Means to Me began its life at New York City’s Clubbed Thumb theatre that it would end up making its splashy west coast premiere at this very moment in time—when issues of the Constitution are being tossed about like a football during the impeachment trial of the President of the United States in the hallowed halls of the U.S. Senate.  Talk about the wonder of timing.  Don’t misunderstand; the trial is not expressly addressed in the play, however, Schreck’s exploration of the durability of our founding document echoes the debate that is going on in coffee houses, at dinner tables, and in mainstream and social media in the wake of the trial.

Schreck’s provocative question is a bouncy springboard from which she jumps headlong into what, in the end, is a memoir.  Yes, her one-hundred-minute narrative about the virtues and failings of the Constitution, and particularly her deep understanding and unpacking of the Ninth and Fourteenth Amendments as well as the Supreme Court are painfully relevant, stirring, and provocative. But What the Constitution Means to Me would be a dry political treatise were it not for the intimate personal stories taken from Schreck’s own life that make it a living, breathing testimony of one woman’s deeply held beliefs. 

Heidi Schrek originated, nurtured, and defined the role of this nearly one-woman play based on herself for the whole of its Broadway run from March 14th through August 24th, 2019, as well as a limited run at the Kennedy Center. Schrek reveals painful stories about her mother and grandmother—stories of abuse and triumph—as a lens through which she views issues of inequality.  It is, therefore, no small feat for another actress to step into her shoes and persona.  Maria Dizzia does so with remarkable clarity and charm.  Perhaps fueled by the adrenalin of opening night, or maybe it was the enormity of trying to approximate Schreck’s emotional first-person performance, Dizzia worked harder than needed to move the audience; but in all she is agile, funny, and razor sharp in her timing.  The opening night audience spoke to her with laughs and cheers throughout. 

Mike Iveson plays two roles; first, a World War II Veteran who moderates young Heidi’s debate competitions; then a modern-day gay man who shares bits of his own experience with the audience.  In the case of the WWII Vet, Iveson walks a lovely line between honoring such a character and, at the same time, infusing his performance with the hilarity of his stereotype.  He seems to both love and find ridiculous this character drawn from the past.  The introduction of the gay man nearly derailed the momentum of the play.  His narrative is fine but comes almost out of left field in a disjointed way.  However, Iveson’s rare simplicity of acting along with his perfect plainness of voice, make this character real, relatable, and likable. Finally, reviving her role on Broadway is young Rosdely Ciprian who brings the entire evening full circle engaging in a spirited debate with the main character.  Ciprian is a winning bright light of a teenager who stands toe-to-toe with Dizzia.  The debate is a terrific device that fully engages the audience, cheers, boos, and all.

What the Constitution Means to Me has been extended to run through February 28th, 2020.  Get your tickets here.