Even the most hallowed document is no match for a teenage girl, as Heidi Schreck reveals in her play, What the Constitutions Means to Me. Schreck is played by Jessica Bedford who undertakes the immense task of a more or less 90-minute monologue under Jennifer Childs’s direction.
We begin thirty years ago when Heidi was making the rounds of the high school debating circuit to win prize money for college tuition. Her topic was the title of this play, and she duplicates for us the speech she presented to the cigar-smoking American Legion audience, here represented by the many many framed portraits of Legionnaires as well as Brian McCann who sits on the sidelines with his official stopwatch. It is essentially a long—very long— civics lesson filled with information about the Constitution of the United States, its amendments, its flaws, and its failures.
To explain the Constitution she refers to it as a “crucible, a “pot in which you put many different ingredients and boil them together until they transform into something else. Something that is sometimes magic. So you see, our Constitution is like a witch’s cauldron.”
There is no mistaking Arthur Miller’s presence here; his play, The Crucible is a foundational work of American theater, which challenges many of the same ideas as Schreck does, although he does it far more theatrically.
Heidi’s debate position is based on the terrible experience of her fore-mothers—we hear about her Grandmother Bea and before her, the great, great, great grandmother who died at 36 of “melancholia” in a state hospital and how the Constitution did not protect them. This feminist argument has, dramatically, the advantages of both the interest of fact and the emotion of story. History, as she points out, is not evenhanded, and male entitlement and violence is at the root of all evil. Her teenage zealotry segues into adult outrage as she asks us whether the Constitution should endure. Although the ideas are powerful and persuasive, a little subtlety, in both the script and the acting, would go a long way to improve matters.
But if one long debate is good, two must be better, or so it would seem when Lily Chancey, a lovely seventeen-year-old high school student, enacts a debate, opposing Schreck. Her proposition is to abolish the old constitution and create a new young one.
But that’s not all; there follows the debate (we have all been provided with little fold-up copies of the Constitution) a chatty session between the two women which seems pointless and self-indulgent and teenage as they ask each other about their favorite movies and favorite smells.
This play has been wildly successful—the most frequently produced show in the 2022-23 season— and Arden Theater has extended the run to Dec.10.
[Arden Theatre Company, 40 N. 2nd Street] October 26-December 10, 2023; ardentheatre.org