By Kari Boldon Welch

What the Constitution Means to Me by Heidi Schreck debuted in 2017. The play went on to open on Broadway in 2019, the same year it was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. In the years since, Roe vs. Wade has been overturned, stripping women of control over their own bodies. Families of transgender youth flee states where gender affirming care is banned. On both sides of the political aisle, arguments regarding our rights tend to point back to the Constitution.

University of Oregon graduate Heidi Schreck dives deep into the Constitution and its amendments to shine a light into those murky places within one of the most important documents of our country.

The play centers around Schreck’s recollection of her high school days, when she competed in debate contests to earn scholarship money for college. She has placed the debate stage in her hometown at the Wenatchee American Legion Hall. The set as designed by Craig Willis, who also directed the production, looks like any Legion Hall we might find in America — a wall of symmetrically lined pictures of white men, an American flag, and a podium at center stage. The character of Heidi, played by Inga Wilson, asks us to represent the men she once stood in front of as a 15-year-old who deeply believed in the Constitution.

Heidi directly addresses the audience as her 40-something self, and then steps back into the past reliving her time debating at American Legion halls across the country. Inga Wilson seamlessly slides from 40-year-old Heidi to 15-year-old Heidi. The transitions from young Heidi to grown up Heidi become more and more frequent as the play goes on until 15-year-old Heidi is left in the past and the Heidi of now is left grappling with the injustices of the founding documents.

Young Heidi was a gifted orator, but she struggled with one of the requirements of the competition – drawing from personal connection to the Constitution. It is what older Heidi now prods and draws on to investigate the Constitution and question who it was meant to serve and who it serves now. She presents it to us in facts and explains it in metaphors, and what begins to spill out on the stage is a narrative of the women in her family and the abuse they suffered from men, going back four generations.

Schreck’s play uses humor, often self-deprecating, to disarm us. So, when the bombs of domestic abuse, abortion, and non-consensual sex are dropped, we are taken by surprise. The horror and sadness of what so many experience in our country, perhaps what we have experienced ourselves, is suddenly stark in front of us, moving us from laughter to a sharp intake of breath and often a few tears.

The characters break the fourth wall throughout the play, making this more of a conversation. The audience (or citizens) cannot be passive in this conversation, and Schreck makes sure we are involved from the get-go. What the Constitution Means to Me is more than characters speaking to each other in front of us, they are speaking with us. It is a play, a lesson in civics, a memoir, and a call to action.

There might not be anyone better than Wilson to navigate this tricky format as an actor. Interacting not just with a scene partner but with an entire audience for one hour and forty minutes requires focus as Schreck’s narrative twists and turns. Wilson handles it with ease. The Heidi she portrays is friendly, quirky, breezy and yet grounded.

Alexander Holmes plays the legionnaire who is managing the debate at the Legion Hall, telling us all the rules and keeping time. He also plays Mike, Heidi’s friend, who shares a little of his own narrative. These two male-identifying characters bring “positive male energy,” as both characters represent men in Heidi’s life who were supportive and kind. Holmes brings a business-like presence to the legionnaire that dissolves into a very likeable Mike.

This play is meant to make us question. To think about what we know and what we don’t. What we assume about our basic rights and what we all think we are protected from. It is meant to make us want to debate. And Schreck gives us that near the play’s climax, bringing a teenager from our community (the very smart and well-spoken Noah Oristano) to debate Wilson onstage about whether the Constitution should be abolished or kept. In the end, we get to decide who wins the debate, both in this play and in our own nation. Or at least we get to decide how hard we are going to fight to protect and enforce the rights of the most vulnerable.

What the Constitution Means to Me will be onstage at OCT through Oct. 1, 2023.

Kari Boldon Welch is a local actor and director. Her most recent projects have included directing The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane at Cottage Theatre and Little Women the Musical at Very Little Theatre. Her day job involves supporting and advocating for all the arts in Lane County as the Development and Communications Coordinator for Lane Arts Council. 

What the Constitution Means to Me continues at OCT

When: 7:30 p.m. 7:30 p.m. performances on Sept. 21-23 and 28-30; matinee performances at 2 p.m. on Sept. 24 and Oct. 1

Where: Oregon Contemporary Theatre, 194 West Broadway in downtown Eugene

Tickets: $25/$39/$49, discounts for students with current ID; available at 541-465-1506 or online at