It’s unsurprising why Amazon has decided now is the time to release a recorded performance of Heidi Schreck’s electric political play, What the Constitution Means to Me, on its Prime Video streaming platform.
Playing herself, Schreck takes us back to her childhood of speaking at oratory competitions on the subject of the piece’s title.
Hamilton told us about the drafting of the Constitution. What the Constitution Means to Me asks if it should still exist.
She also reflects on her experiences of growing up and how her family has been impacted by the Constitution’s various clauses and amendments. Schreck touches on women’s rights, domestic violence and immigration in her collection of anecdotes.
The show first debuted at the Summerworks arts festival in New York in 2017, eventually running on Broadway at the Hayes Theatre in 2019. It had subsequent productions in Washington D.C., Los Angeles and sadly closed prematurely in Chicago due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The set, by Rachel Hauck, is an American Legion Hall in Wenatchee, Washington. The walls are wood-panelled and adorned with rows and rows of portraits of military personnel. An American Legion flag hangs from a flagpole, and their logo adorns a wooden lectern placed on a central table.
The American Legion is a veterans organisation that, among other patriotic activities, funds initiatives for students to compete for prize money. Similar things exist in the UK but are about as rare as they are in the US, giving audiences a glimpse into this relatively unknown world of speaking competitively.
Schreck walks on the stage to rapturous applause, dressed smartly in a blouse and blazer, one of the costumes designed by Michael Krass. The audience is buzzing with excitement for what they are about to witness.
She opens by giving context to the piece, sharing that her mother made her compete in many of these competitions to pay for her college tuition. The playwright and performer says she will switch between her eager 15-year-old self and just as enthusiastic present-day self throughout. Schreck makes this transition effortless, guiding the audience with verbal cues, pauses and other mannerisms.
Jen Schriever’s lighting design shines brightly on the set during Schreck’s “deer in headlights” moments in the contest. It is also dimmed effectively to create intimacy and mystery on stage for the more vulnerable moments in the piece.
Mike Iveson joins Schrek on stage, playing the contest timekeeper, adorned in military wear. Spending most of his time sitting at the far side of the stage keeping time, he comically barks at Schreck when she is running out of time on her speaking slots.
Schrek gets increasingly stressed and eager to finish saying everything she wants to say, much to the audience’s delight. What the Constitution Means to Me makes the audience both laugh and cry – we know this thanks to cutaway camera shots in this filmed production.
If you close your eyes, it feels more like an audiobook than a play at times, with the switching between wandering narratives. That said, they often find their focus again with impact, and Schreck’s open and engaging manner keeps the audience in the palm of her hand.
It also seems to empower the audience by the end. The final sequence of the show – which I won’t spoil – feels like a rock concert.
Throughout the show, Schreck creatively unpacks the reality, and in many cases, the ridiculousness, behind the document that the United States was founded on. For those who want a humour-injected insight into the history of the US political and legal systems, or if you are voting in the upcoming election, this is a much-watch.
What the Constitution Means to Me on Amazon Prime Video from 16 October