While attending the opening night of “What The Constitution Means To Me” now at the Mark Taper Forum, writer Heidi Schreck encourages the audience to ponder about the importance and how dated the U.S. Constitution is today.
Direct from Broadway, Director Oliver Butler has actress Maria Dizzia open the 100 minute show as an adult Schreck, and a fifteen-year-old Schreck participating in an American Legion debate competition. She asks the audience to become the same group of white male American Legion members who watched and judged her debates when she was a teen.
We learn that Schreck was a pretty good debater, earning enough prize money to pay for her entire state college tuition. A few years ago, Schreck was thinking about the value and inadequacy of our Constitution, especially after our current administration gained power. She believes it’s time to re-evaluate the documents that she was zealous about as a teenager.
Transforming into a teen, Dizzia describes how Schreck had a “buzz cut like Annie Lennox” the 1980s lead singer and songwriter for the band Eurythmics. She talks about her fascination with witches and actor Patrick Swayze.
Actor Mike Iveson appears in the audience as an American Legion proctor. He walks onto the diorama style stage to begin the debate. Scenic designer Rachel Hauck enhances the room with four rows of framed photos of Legion Hall members.
The play focuses on questions asked by Iveson about Amendment 9 and Amendment 14 of the Constitution. The one thing I felt is sometimes it was hard to follow Dizzia transitioning from Schreck’s teenage and adult self. When she reveals intimate details about the sexual and physical abuse suffered by four generations of women in her life, she shares how these experiences relate to these amendments in the Constitution. We learn how it shaped and destroyed each of these women.
The show details how the Constitution was written to protect rich white males, and how women’s rights, immigrants and citizenship rights are teetering today. This personal spin to each Amendment may make some in the audience uncomfortable, as she focuses on sexual assault, domestic abuse, and how immigration is dealt with under our current administration. Taped recordings of Justices Anthony Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg emphasis the points made in this play.
Later in the play, Iveson comes out of character and shares with the audience about his own sexuality and how the Constitution doesn’t always protect him, even though he is a white male.
About 75 minutes into the play Dizzia engages in a debate about why we should modify the Constitution with a precocious 15 year old debater Rosdely Ciprian who believes we should leave it alone. Theatre ushers pass out little blue booklets by the ACLU on the Constitution of the United Stares of America. As the audience listens to these two women debate, they hear their opinions and decide who they believe should win. One audience member is chosen to read her final verdict aloud for all to hear.
Nominated for a Tony Award for Best Play and a finalist spot for the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, this show will appeal to history buffs, liberals and feminists, but might make some in the audience uncomfortable as the playwright tackles abortion, equal citizen protection and immigration.
The play runs from Jan. 12 through Feb. 23, 2020.
The cast includes Maria Dizzia, Mike Iveson, Rosdely Ciprian and Jocelyn Shek on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday evenings, and during Sunday matinee shows. Gabriel Marin and Jessica Savage are understudies. Director by Oliver Butler, the creative team includes scenic design by Rachel Hauck, costume design by Michael Krass, lighting design by Jen Schriever, and sound design by Sinan Refik Zafar. The production stage manager is Nicole Olson and the casting director is Taylor Williams.
Tickets start at $79 and are available at https://www.centertheatregroup.org/ or at the box office or by phone (213)628-2772 starting at 10 a.m. weekdays, non on Saturday and 11 a.m. on Sunday. A limited number of $15 student rush tickets are available for every performance. Tickets may be reserved beginning at 10 a.m,, the day prior, while supplies last, and must be picked up at the Box Office with valid student ID. 135 N Grand Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90012.