Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

What the Constitution Means to Me
Kennedy Center
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule (updated)

Also see Susan's reviews of Doubt: A Parable and 1 Henry IV

Heidi Schreck
Photo by Joan Marcus
Washington is the ideal post-Broadway stop for What the Constitution Means to Me, where the Tony Award-nominated play is running through September 22. While the Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theater is notably larger than the play's Broadway venue, playwright-actress Heidi Schreck and her supporting cast make just as powerful and direct an impact on the audience. Also, Rachel Hauck's three-sided scenic design helps to compress the broad stage.

Director Oliver Butler gives the work a deceptively naturalistic appearance, starting as Schreck describes her experience at age 15 giving speeches about the U.S. Constitution in American Legion competitions. In fact, she notes, she earned enough in prize money to pay for college.

Initially, Schreck steps back in time (in her yellow blazer and tailored jeans, designed by Michael Krass) to her teenage self, sharing her impressions of the Constitution and giving a detailed exegesis of the first part of the 14th Amendment, as a Legion official (Mike Iveson, whose facial expressions are hilarious) attempts to maintain order. The sneaky part comes when Schreck moves into the present and tells how the Constitution's guarantees of due process and equal protection under the law didn't always work for the women in her family.

Probably Schreck's most trenchant observation is that the U.S. Constitution is a document of negative rights—protecting the people from overreach by the government—rather than positive rights—which obligate the government to provide specific kinds of support to the public. As she shows, the protections of the 14th Amendment have not prevented legalized discrimination against ethnic and racial groups, women, LGBT populations, and disadvantaged communities. There's nothing dry about her performance. She demonstrates her family's tendency of "Greek tragedy crying" in bad situations and grounds many of her arguments in pop culture.

And that's not all. The final part of the play sets up a debate between Schreck and Rosdely Ciprian, a high school sophomore who has just turned 15. The issue: Can the Constitution be made more accountable to the American public or should it be abolished and a new one enacted? The arguments, and the resolution, vary with each performance. The 110-minute play provides a stimulating civics lesson with a lot of laughs along the way.

Kennedy Center
What the Constitution Means to Me
September 11th - 22nd, 2019
By Heidi Schreck
Cast: Heidi Schreck, Rosdely Ciprian, Mike Iveson, Ben Beckley
Directed by Oliver Butler
Eisenhower Theater, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
2700 F St. NW, Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 800-444-1324 or 202-467-4600 or