You know how the constitution has a preamble? "We the people of the United States ..."?
Okay, before you go see the play "What the Constitution Means to Me" (and you definitely need to go see this play) - you should probably imagine a preamble to the play … not a disclaimer exactly, just an explanation for what you’re about to see. Something like this:
"Hi my name is Maria Dizzia. The story you're about to hear is another woman's story, Heidi Schreck's story. It's her play. It's her story. She's a woman in America. I'm a woman in America...so it's my story too."
You need the preamble because this is an autobiographical show, performed by a woman who didn’t write it.
"What the Constitution Means to Me" is playwright and actress Heidi Schrek's story of being a 15 year-old and traveling the American Legion halls of America competing for college scholarship money by giving speeches about the constitution.
But it's also the story of a 40-something playwright coming to terms with the women in her own family, and their brutal history of domestic violence. And it's about what it means to have a female body, or identify as female, in America. And it's an incredibly cogent history lesson on how the Constitution thinks about women and their bodies - about the magical penumbra of rights it can confer; how, in Ms. Schrek's words, the 9th and 14th amendments came together with "wonder-twin like powers" to create a woman's right to choose.
Perhaps most importantly, it's a play that taps into theatre's ancient role to engage and prepare its community.
We, the people, are hearing a lot about our constitution right now. We are hearing about Article II powers and what Article I does and doesn't do. We hear about an oath to a constitution under attack.
What Ms. Schrek's play brilliantly does is make the constitution personal. She reminds us of its profound limitations and its greatest strengths. She takes the distant language of amendments and places them, metaphorically and insightfully, on her own life, on her own body. Abstract ideas and distant histories become tangible and present.
Now, in the Mark Taper Forum's production, these words are brought to life by the actress Maria Dizzia (not Ms. Schrek who performed the play in New York). This confused the man in the seat behind me the night I saw it - at least until his wife set him straight. To be fair, it's a meaningful distinction because, right there in the play's title "What the Constitution Means to Me," there's a "me."
This play is auto-biographical and, without getting too deep into the dramaturgical weeds, part of the machinery of the play is about stripping back artifice, about a play between personal emotions and performance. Having a different woman perform matters ... but not nearly as much as the constitution itself matters to every woman in America - to everyone who makes up that "we, the people."
You need to go see this show. You need to take your daughters (and your sons) to see this show. You'll walk out with a more personal relationship to our constitution and that's something we could all use right now.
"What the Constitution Means to Me" plays at the Mark Taper Forum downtown through February 28th.