IVINS — Despite the show’s short Broadway run in 2019 of nearly five months, What the Constitution Means to Me, a contemporary play written by Heidi Schreck, won a variety of awards. However, until I arrived at the Center for the Arts at Kayenta, I had no idea what I was about to see. The very name of the show had given the allusion to a title of an essay or a speech, which is ironic in hindsight. Director Zoe Aja Moore, her technical production team, and the cast of three deliver a night of historical and political vibrance and debate, just in time for Thanksgiving, too.
In entering the black box theater, I scrutinized the set and its contents with a sense of familiarity. The set is simple, with a large rectangular platform covered in a thin red carpet; a podium; a small table with folders, papers, a few pens, and a bell, accompanied by a chair; a chair in each back corner; a potted plant next to the chair in the stage left back corner; and a large, and somewhat looming American flag in the back. It felt like I was in a small town American Legion Hall or Lions Club lodge, something in similitude in location. And perhaps it had something to do with the fact I saw this show the night of Veteran’s Day that also influenced this track of thinking.
This 100-minute, one-act show begins with Heidi Schreck, portrayed by Jenny Greer, demolishes the fourth wall by addressing the audience directly and pointedly. She gives us background information on herself and explains that the set is “reconstructed from my dreams.” Schreck’s dreams were the reimagined memories of her youth spent in American Legion Halls as a contestant in Constitution-themed speech competitions, where she won enough money to pay off her future college tuition. She, along with the set, embodies those memories of a 15-year-old Heidi, recreating one of her speeches. She is joined in this fantasy by a legionnaire (played by Brandon Bruce) clad in a uniform similar to military Class A uniform, who both moderates Schreck’s speech as well as continually presses her to make the Constitution as personal to her and her life as she can.
After starting with pop culture references and staples that would have been important to a teenager, Heidi ventures into prominent court cases and statistics to bolster her standing in the “contest.” But then after ignoring the legionnaire’s attempts to moderate her, and one time even telling him she was going to continue (which is the last time he tries to keep her as her 15-year-old self), Schreck begins to unfold her own life experiences and the experiences of generations of women in her family. As this segment goes underway, Schreck sheds away the naiveté of her teenage self (figuratively, yes, but also literally as she takes off the blue overshirt that formerly layered over a white button up shirt).
Greer’s performance and portrayal of Heidi Schreck was authentic and captivating through her mannerisms, as she embraced a variety of life stages for Heidi, and Greer’s delivery of a script that at times felt choppy and incomplete, only to be resolved at a later and more impactful time. After spending most of the show in silence, the legionnaire then stands and addresses the audience as Mike Iveson, a friend of Heidi’s and the provider of her requested “positive male energy.” In Bruce’s representation of Iveson, he gives a clear juxtaposition to the toxic and cruel men that Schreck has talked about up to this point.
To signal the end of the play, Greer and Bruce are joined onstage by a “high school” parliamentary debater, Mercedes Murguia. It was interesting to note that Murguia was dressed exactly how Greer was at the beginning of the show: a blue overshirt over a long-sleeved button up white shirt (which at the time of Murguia’s introduction, Greer has shed away and is in a plain gray shirt to signify that she is no longer playing Heidi), jeans, and black and white shoes. This, I assume, is to allude back to Heidi’s youthful enthusiasm for the Constitution and optimism for the future.
Shortly after her introduction, Murguia engages Greer in a faux debate to keep or abolish the United States Constitution, a debate which is moderated by Bruce, who sits in the audience and encourages audience participation. After a lengthy debate, a judge was picked from one of the members of the audience, who decided to keep the Constitution intact.
What the Constitution Means to Me successfully brought to light a variety of historical and ethical issues that America has faced or is facing, and the show is a credit to the Kayenta Arts organization. It was a strong programming choice for Veteran’s Day — or any day.