What the Constitution Means to Me
Share on social media
Find More Watercooler Picks
In this filmed version of her award-winning Broadway show, Heidi Schreck revisits her time as a teenager traveling around the country making speeches about the U.S. Constitution at American Legion halls for scholarship money. Now, some 30 years later, she explores how her views on the document have matured over time.
Heidi Schreck may not be a household name, but she should be. In an odd coincidence of timing, director Marielle Heller can also currently be seen in the role of Alma in The Queen’s Gambit over on Netflix.
In light of the recent Supreme Court confirmation battle, this play is more relevant than ever. And now that Prime Video has released a filmed version, more people will have a chance to see this important and deeply moving work, eloquently performed by the author herself.
When it comes to Constitutional law, Schreck clearly knows her stuff. Not only can she still recite amendments verbatim and expound on their history, she goes deeper into the minutia of life-changing court decisions based on them. Notably, it puts a spotlight on how many of those decisions hinged on the interpretation of certain amendments by a handful of judges. You know, just in case you need a reminder of what’s at stake in the fight over a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.
Don’t let the fact that this is a work meant for the stage, or that the description makes it sound like a dressed-up civics lesson, deter you from giving this outstanding show a chance. The message transcends the medium, and it’s anything but dry (though you’ll definitely come away having learned something). No simple synopsis could capture the raw emotion Schreck puts into her performance. She’ll make you laugh one minute, move you to tears the next, and fill you with righteous anger at a time when we could all use some motivation to keep on fighting the good fight.
In this not-quite-one-woman play, Schreck doesn’t just revisit her youth as a competitive speaker, she recreates it, complete with a backdrop inspired by the American Legion Hall in her home town. Photographs of dozens of veterans, presumably members of the host organization, all old white men, cover the stage walls behind her. They represent the audiences she typically faced, but also serve as a looming reminder that the framers of the Constitution were also members of this exclusive group, and that we’re all now subject to the laws they wrote nearly 250 years ago with only themselves mind.
In between explaining the rules of the debate and delivering the parts of her speech she remembers, Schreck adds context through asides revealing intimate details of her personal and family history. These asides become more frequent, longer, and more personal as the show continues, until she finally gives up the pretense of the contest altogether and speaks directly from the heart. In case you hadn’t already guessed, Schreck is an unapologetic feminist, so she places special emphasis on the ways in which the Constitution has served and failed women in particular, but also touches on its impact on all citizens who aren’t members of the class it was written to protect.
The play’s closing argument is a literal one. Schreck is joined on stage by high-school student Rosdely Ciprian for a structured debate over whether the Constitution should be kept and amended or abolished and rewritten entirely. Each takes a side and argues their position, then the audience votes on the winner. It’s a testament to democracy that brings everything full circle and reminds us that there is hope for a more inclusive and equitable future, but only if we study and learn from the oversights of the past.
Well-written, heartfelt, and necessary, What the Constitution Means to Me isn’t your typical streaming special. It wasn’t even originally made for the screen. But thanks to Heidi Schreck’s captivating performance and distinctive point of view, it’s a must-see on any platform.
It shouldn’t be too hard to convince your political-minded friends to give this a try, but even those feeling burned out on politics (and who can blame them) might find it engaging and enlightening.
Although the official rating is 16+, parents should be aware that the show features frank discussions of abortion, sex, domestic violence, and mental illness, sprinkled with a generous helping of colorful language throughout.