Called “Endearingly funny and deeply affecting” by The Washington Post, What the Constitution Means to Me shattered box office records during its Broadway run at the Helen Hayes Theater, playing a total of 24 weeks. Now, the play by Obie Award-winning playwright Heidi Schreck is coming to Florida Studio Theatre’s Mainstage. Nominated for both the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Play, What the Constitution Means to Me explores the characters’ – and the audience’s – personal relationships to our country’s founding document.
“The play opens with the words: ‘This is not a patchwork quilt, but a steamy, living document,’” said Director Kate Alexander. “The play immediately asks you to engage, dig deep, and interact. There is no fourth wall. There is no proselytizing. There is only the fierce exchange of ideas that embody the U.S. Constitution.”
What the Constitution Means to Me is an autobiographical story and follows a teenage Schreck, who put herself through college by winning Constitutional debates across the country. Schreck draws from these past personal experiences along with the experiences of her relatives to trace the profound impact the U.S. Constitution has had on the lives of four generations of women in her own family.
In Part 1, we are introduced to Heidi and her story. Speckled with comedy, the first half of the play paints the picture of Heidi’s spritely teenage self, brimming with passion and adoration for the Constitution. In Part 2, Heidi goes head to head with her opponent, a young debater. This section of the play packs its own unique challenge: it’s slightly different every time.
“In Part 2, parts of the play are scripted and a few moments are extemporaneous,” explained Alexander. “This adds an extra layer of challenge for the artists, but also another layer of meaning, personalization, and adventure for the audience.”
Heidi played herself in the play’s Off-Broadway and Broadway runs. Actress Amy Bodnar will step into Schreck’s shoes and story in FST’s production.
“Heidi is a huge role,” said Bodnar. “It is not a one woman show, but it is close. For me, this play is beautifully constructed and personalized, yet I think that many people are going to relate to it. I certainly do.”
Combining theatre, storytelling, debate, and improvisation, What the Constitution Means to Me creates a forum for audiences to come together and reflect on our country’s history and future.
“It is Theater in the old sense—the Greek sense,” wrote Helen Shaw in her 5-star review of the Broadway production for TimeOut New York, “a place where civic society can come together and do its thinking and fixing and planning.”
Ultimately, this play doesn’t give answers. Instead, it asks questions, and leaves those questions to the audience to decide for themselves what they think about Heidi’s experiences and story.
“What the Constitution Means to Me cannot be called a Democratic or Republication play,” said Alexander. “It is OUR play as citizens of the United States. The play asks you to engage with the Constitution through the eyes of Heidi and ultimately make your own decisions.”
What the Constitution Means to Me is playing in FST's Keating Theatre through February 26, 2023.