As a teenager, Washington state native Heidi Schreck set her sights on learning all she could about the U.S. Constitution. In fact, around age 15, the inquisitive youngster launched a journey to earn her college tuition by winning Constitutional debate competitions across the U.S.
Now 51, the woman from Wenatchee who went to the University of Oregon using debate-raised cash and grew up to become a teacher, actress and playwright turned her enthusiastic political learning experience into a humorous, thought-provoking play called What the Constitution Means to Me that has played on and off Broadway. It was nominated for Best Play, and she for Best Actress, in the 73rd Tony Awards, and the show earned a finalist spot for the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
Shortly after the production completed its most recent national tour, City Theatre in Miami grabbed the rights to the popular show and will present Schreck’s highly acclaimed piece Dec. 1-18 at the Carnival Studio Theater in the Ziff Ballet Opera House at the Adrienne Arsht Center in Miami.
Elizabeth Price – Photo by Eric Campbell
Three people with strong connections to theater in the tri-county area are combining to bring the show to local audiences. Elizabeth Price, an actress familiar to audiences from Miami-Dade to Palm Beach County and Seth Trucks, whose stage trek has taken a similar path, have lead roles in the Schreck creation. City Theatre’s Artistic Director Margaret Ledford, an eight-time Carbonell nominated director, helms the production.
Melissa Almaguer is understudy for the Schreck role and is also scheduled to perform it.
“The show had such a great run on and off Broadway,” said Ledford, who spoke highly of the production which touches on “a lot of contemporary issues.” While the play isn’t comic in stand-up comedy terms, “her method of storytelling is very humorous.”
Pic of Margaret Ledford – Photo by Morgan Sophia Photography
“The play is also timely,” she added, “since it tackles current issues such as women’s rights and immigration and explores the personal impact of several monumental Supreme Court decisions.”
A veteran actor, director and acting instructor herself, Price said she jumped at the chance to play Schreck on stage. Echoing what Ledford said, Price added: “The show is so funny and so well told.”
By stepping into the author’s world, Price said she can enlighten the audience with stories about the Constitution’s impact on Schreck, her family and Americans in general.
After a run of a couple of years off Broadway, the play premiered at the Hayes Theater on Broadway March 31, 2019, with Schreck herself in the leading role. Over the course of the show, she addresses themes such as women’s rights, immigration, domestic abuse and the history of the United States. She varies the time in which the play takes place, performing some scenes as her modern self and others as her 15-year-old persona participating in Constitutional debate contests.
In the Miami production, Price takes on the Schreck role both as a youth and mature woman, and Trucks appears as an American Legion member on stage, representing the organization that sponsored the Constitutional debates.
In what has been described as “a hilarious, hopeful and achingly human new play,” What the Constitution Means to Me allows Price, as Schreck, to resurrect her teenage self to trace the profound relationship among four generations of women and the founding document that shaped their lives.
During the production Schreck (through Price) talks about multiple facets of the Constitution, particularly the Ninth Amendment, which Schreck refers to as the “penumbra” of the Constitution, quoting former Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas. It is central to the show, the author pointed out.
She also takes a deep dive into the Fourteenth Amendment, which discusses citizenship rights and what it means to be “American.” Or, as Price states, “it says that anyone born on U.S. soil can be a citizen.”
Schreck also addresses themes of sexual assault, domestic abuse and immigration as they relate to the women in her family, to herself and to others as they are impacted by significant legal cases in American history.
The play ends with a dialogue, moderated by Trucks, in which Price, as Schreck, engages a local high school debater about whether the U.S. Constitution should be abolished and replaced. The audience plays the role of jury following this on-stage debate, with one audience member being selected to deliver the final verdict.
Ledford said various high school debate team members have been invited to join the cast during the final segment of the production.
Pic of Seth Trucks – Photo by Michael Price