“It’s so good to see you.”
These are the opening words of “What the Constitution Means to Me” and they may never have meant more than Wednesday at the Guthrie Theater, which had an opening night for the first time in 578 days. The COVID-19 pandemic has canceled or postponed much of our flagship theater’s 2019-20 season and the entire 2020-21 season, but masked and vaccinated performers and spectators can finally meet again at Guthrie.
The title seems to promise a serious teenager’s take on our country’s founding document and, for a while, that’s what we get. “Constitution” was a hit on Broadway, written and performed by Heidi Schreck. It’s based on competitive speeches she gave to make money in college, traveling from room to room in the American Legion, telling veterans about her love for the Constitution, especially “the most magical and mysterious amendment of all”, the ninth.
Cassie Beck, a friend of Schreck’s, plays it on the national tour at Guthrie. She doesn’t do anything to look like 15-year-old Heidi. However, she captures the energy of the teenager and – in capricious exchanges with a legionary, who counts the remaining seconds of his speech – the feeling that legionaries weren’t fully responsive to a young woman’s needs, little matters how much they applauded when she rejoiced over Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton.
The lights in the house stay on for much of “What the Constitution Means to Me,” establishing that we are in a hell between traditional theater and something hard to name. As today’s Heidi says the words of teenage Heidi, we feel her questioning her youthful certainty as she begins to reveal how the Constitution failed to protect her, especially against violence. domestic animals that reproduce in his family tree.
It’s deeply personal material, but part of the genius of the “Constitution” dynamic is the confidence with which it navigates huge changes of tone, almost like a Nirvana song with calmly contemplative verses and strong choruses. and angry. Hold on a minute, “Constitution” is peppered with original references to the many important things we learned from “Dirty Dancing”. In the next one, Heidi takes us to a courtroom where her mother is betrayed by the one person she thought was supporting her.
Schreck’s play helps us understand what was going on in that courtroom, which is just a sign of the generosity of “Constitution.” It never feels like a pity party because Schreck moves from her own story to compassion for others, including Indigenous and black trans women whose Founding Fathers’ rights were not concerned and, according to the play, later laws ignore.
Surrounded by photos of about 150 white men on the walls of the Legion Hall, with a white judge seated to his left and speaking to an all-male audience (spectators are told we represent the Legion audience of Heidi), Beck summons our imaginations. She asks us to imagine a civilization ruled by a document that only protects the rights of white male landowners, and then points out that we don’t have to imagine that civilization. Because we live there.
Schreck was so amazing on stage, where you can still see her in the filmed version of Amazon, that a big question about “Constitution” was whether another actor could get in there. Beck makes the show his own. She gets rid of those worries almost immediately with her fluid, funny, and poignant performance (it sounds bizarre, but even a recording of Supreme Court justices coughing as they make awkward arguments about birth control is funny because of the way Beck sets it up).
Although it seems spontaneous and lively, “This piece is quite carefully constructed,” Beck tells us. The build includes the finale, when a young debater (Jocelyn Shek and Emilyn Toffler alternate in the role) joins Beck to haggle over whether the Constitution is worth preserving. The audience decides who wins the debate, but long before that decision is made, it’s clear who wins in “What the Constitution Means to Me”: everyone who witnesses this urgent and moving play.
“What the Constitution means to me”
Who: Written by Heidi Schreck. Directed by Oliver Butler.
When: 7:30 p.m. Tue-Fri, 1 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sat, 7 p.m. Sun. Ends October 24.
Where: Guthrie Theater, 818 S. 2nd St., Mpls.
Protocol: COVID vaccine or mandatory negative test, accompanied by masks (no bandanas or neck warmers).
Tickets: $ 26- $ 80, 612-377-2224 or guthrietheater.org.