“What the Constitution Means to Me”: The Living Document Defined


Laura Jordan in “What the Constitution Means to Me.” (Photo courtesy of BW Productions)

By Andre Montoya, Arts Writer


Pioneer Theatre Company recently presented “What the Constitution Means to Me,” a play by Heidi Schreck, directed by Karen Azenberg.

The play stars Laura Jordan as “Heidi,” and Ben Cherry as “the Legionnaire”/ “Mike.” There is a rotating cast of debaters for the final act and for the night of April 7, the role was played by Taryn Bedore.

Sobering Truths

Laura Jordan (left) and Ben Cherry (right) in "What the Constitution Means to Me."
Laura Jordan (left) and Ben Cherry (right) in “What the Constitution Means to Me.” (Photo courtesy of BW Productions)

The setting is focused around the debate tournaments centering the United States Constitution that Schreck frequented as a 15-year-old. The play reflects on how much has changed since then. The set simply consists of a podium in the front of the stage.

Schreck switches from her naive self to her more knowledgeable counterpart at certain points to break out into tangents or anecdotes that demonstrate how her viewpoint has changed. She reflects on the four generations of women in her family and how they navigated their lives in a country that treated them as second-class citizens in some form or another.

The Fourteenth Amendment, the one that guarantees protection for our founding principles of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, is a central focus as Schreck comes to realize that the truth is that many marginalized or persecuted groups have not historically enjoyed any of these protections. In fact, they have been subject to a great many injustices.

Many of the injustices mentioned in the play spin out from misogyny. They include the unequal relationship between men and women, domestic violence and bodily autonomy.

Schreck takes care to mention the historical struggles faced by African Americans, Indigenous Americans and LGBTQ people as well, acknowledging that the topics are more vast and complex than the play could tackle.

None of the injustices brought up seem archaic at all, as they continue to plague the U.S. to this day. Though these may be sobering truths, Heidi uses humor to soften the blows they land.

The Legionnaire is an odd figure at first, but serves almost as an allegorical representation of Uncle Sam, until he changes his costume from the straight and narrow Legionnaire to Mike, who gets to share his own anecdote.

Mike was included to provide a “positive male influence” as he states himself in the play. Beyond that, the story he tells of struggling to find his own space in the hyper-masculine culture of the U.S. does show that these patriarchal systems do harm both women and men.

An Open Discussion

Laura Jordan (left) and Taryn Bedore (right) in "What the Constitution Means to Me."
Laura Jordan (left) and Taryn Bedore (right) in “What the Constitution Means to Me.” (Photo courtesy of BW Productions)

Towards the end the play, the audience is treated to a debate between Schreck and Bedore as they pose the question of whether or not the Constitution should be abolished and reworked, or kept and continuously amended. This sequence invites audience members to participate in the debate by cheering or booing in support or derision of the arguments the two propose. Several audience members took their duty to participate quite seriously.

At the end of the debate, one audience member was selected to make the final decision: they chose to keep the Constitution as is.

The night ended on a more lighthearted note as the two debaters sat down to ask each other questions submitted by previous audiences. The last question, directed at Bedore, was along the lines of, “How do you imagine your life in 30 years?” The 15-year-old Bedore marveled momentarily at the prospect of being 45-years-old, which caused the audience to erupt in laughter, given many of them were older than that. As the laughter died down, Bedore then stated that they wished for a better future, for everyone. 

The 2019 Pulitzer Prize Award finalist and Tony award-nominated play leaves the Pioneer Theatre Company on April 22. Tickets can be found here.


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