Heidi Schreck Artfully Makes Her Story Our Story
by Barry David Horwitz
Heidi Schreck plays the Constitution like a Stradivarius, lyrically deploying Amendments in defense of women’s rights, LGBT rights, and Civil Rights. Heidi acquired her skills by competing in Constitutional debates for teenagers, organized by the stingy palace guardians at American Legion Halls.
A big HIT, off and on Broadway, now we have an Amazon movie version of Schreck’s New York staging with the freshness of live theater and live audience. And she brings us back to theater, brilliantly.
Onstage, we are confronted with a typical mid-century, mid-western American Legion war veteran meeting hall. We could be anywhere–in Dallas, Cleveland, or Peoria. On the back wall hang rows of framed black and white photographs of white male American Legion “patriots.” These dignitaries lead the local Chapter in that Legion Hall. In fact, a Legionnaire soon joins Heidi onstage.
The tight-lipped American Legion delegate (watchful Mike Iveson) represents the old-fashioned types who run the debate contest. Iveson stands for generations of paternal figures who keep on eye on upstarts like Heidi–trying in vain to suppress her. Little did they realize that peppy, bright 15-year-old Heidi Schreck would deconstruct their whole A.L. universe–much like 17 year old Michael Moore did with the Elks’ speech contest.
Heidi’s mother, a teacher, trained her to debate and win these Constitutional contests–to earn enough money for college tuition. We also get to hear about Heidi’s research into the abused women and violent men in her family tree–startling revelations!
At 15, Heidi begins serious Constitutional research. She takes to it like a duck to water, writing to Constitutional scholars and developing her own debate style. She has to follow the strict requirements that demand she find a metaphor for the Constitution. Jumping up and down and raising her hand, we love the 15 year old debate striver.
When another competitor compares the Constitution to a vast Quilt, Heidi chooses a Crucible to indicate the far-reaching transformations of the Constitution. She dives into details of the Amendments, evoking hearty laughter at her teen-age intensity and enthusiasm. Young Heidi develops an eager, go-get-em persona that is priceless and warm-hearted.
Heidi still has the bounce and the brilliance of a teenage prodigy. She’s fun to watch and to listen to–and we learn more than we imagined. The document is an open door–just walk through with Heidi . . .
She explains the power of the 13th and 14th Amendments, passed after the Civil War, to protect minorities from the tyrannies of slavery. When she’s given a challenge to explain and apply the 9th Amendment, she delivers a revelatory rant that makes us laugh, together. It’s the most fascinating part of her re-creation of teenage Heidi, struggling to weaponize the law of the land.
For the finale, we meet yet another endearing guest, Rosdely Ciprian, a 14 year old Dominican-American debater, also playing herself. Rosdely, a talented theater debater, grips our attention–with her facts and fire. Brilliant Rosdely updates teen-aged Heidi, bringing fresh ideas.
“The Constitution and Me” features Mike and Rosdely, Heidi’s inspired friends. When Heidi Schreck, the charming and relaxed playwright, comes onstage and tells us that her play is still in progress, we believe her. Her show is brilliantly personal, and yet also magically political, too–Schreck makes her personal story into our political emergency.
The only way to find out “What the Constitution Means to US” is to get over to AmazonPrime and meet Heidi Schreck. Heidi fills the hall with intensity, laughter, and revelations. Well worth several viewings–and it doesn’t take a flight to New York to see her.
“What the Constitution Means to Me” by Heidi Schreck, directed by Oliver Butler–Streaming at AmazonPrime.
Cast: Heidi Schreck, Mike Iveson, Rosdely Ciprian, and Thursday Williams.
Banner photo: Rosdely Ciprian and Heidi Schreck