Sunday, October 16, 2022

Time to Learn About Our Constitution!

Heidi Schreck and Cassie Beck - What the Constitution Means To Me (Joan Marcus)

What the Constitution Means to Me
Seattle Rep
Through October 23, 2022
Our Constitution is not a very long document for such an important piece of writing. There is a preamble and seven articles. What has become so consequential over the hundreds of years is the lengthy list of amendments that augment the basic rules that were written in a fairly bare-bones document.
The history of some of those amendments and what they created or changed for us can be fascinating. After the Civil War, there was a clear need to amend the Constitution so that freed Black people could never again be enslaved and could take their rightful place in society with the same rights as everyone else.
If you think that Heidi Schreck’s play What the Constitution Means to Me might be staid or boring or might be too much like a high school history lesson, your assumptions are incorrect. It is none of those things. Instead, it’s really a deeply personal story about a young high school Heidi and one of the unique ways she earned money to go to college, but also a reflection about what this journey of presentations about our Constitution meant to her then and over time.
As a young teen, Heidi’s mother encouraged her to enter contests to debate segments of the Constitution for prize money. She was phenomenally successful. She tells us that she was able to fund her college education that way. And she tells us that she loved the Constitution, genuinely. Then she describes how, as an adult, she took another dive into the Constitution and reviewed how her positions shifted as she has grown and learned more about the history of the country.
Because Schreck is such a gifted writer, she is able to weave humor, history, and personal anecdotes together into a supremely palatable and relatable monologue. It’s an evening that you can bring your high schoolers and your elderly parents and everyone can find many moments to appreciate. And you’ll get your own copy of our Constitution courtesy the ACLU, of course.
She’s created essentially a solo show with a few augmenting moments. The set is supposed to be a recreation of a veteran’s hall in Wenatchee, where she grew up. Wood paneling and tons of (male) pictures. A veteran acts as the emcee of the night and introduces her as a debate participant and she demonstrates her participation in the kind of competition. His role is not huge, but toward the end, he’s allowed to step out of character and introduce himself and his relationship to the show.
Breaking the “fourth wall” is a significant part of how this piece is built. Everyone talks directly to the audience and requests an almost undeniable participation from each audience. We’re asked to cheer or boo debate ideas in an enlivening segment toward the end where real local young people debate with “Heidi.” I put Heidi in quotes because Heidi herself is no longer performing her own play. Cassie Beck is the performer, now, who steps into a character of Heidi, but also is allowed to become herself and introduce her own relationship to the Constitution.
Leah Scott, a University of Washington political science and law student, was the brave young woman who took on opening night’s debate, which was whether to keep the current Constitution or to scrap it in favor of something brand new. It was a vigorous and challenging debate!
There are moments when the show drags a bit and wanders a bit too far into the weeds of personal information about all the performers, and an end section where the two women answered random questions from a previous audience that went on too long to not much purpose. But the evening is important.
Especially important is the relevance of the Constitution and what has been happening at the Supreme Court, with the striking down of Roe v. Wade, in particular. There is an amazing portion of the evening where audio of the real Supreme Court justices is played. A lot is made of the fact that all these male justices are talking about female body parts, while making rulings on birth control! You might almost think that a political comedy show scripted that awful, cringe-making audio, but it turns out to be “history!”
You should know that there are some somber and very uncomfortable topics regarding how women were brought to Washington State by Asa Mercer and basically lied to. And a very proper examination of why women might have resorted to mental illness to escape or been essentially jailed in mental health institutions because they did not obey their husbands. History, when told with truth, is often not pretty.
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