“What the Constitution Means to Me” highlights sexism in U.S. policies


I had not seen a live theater performance since the initial onset of the lockdown in March 2020, and going to “What the Constitution Means to Me” was certainly a comeback.

Running from Oct. 26 to Nov. 7 at the Broadway Playhouse in Chicago, the Broadway national tour of Heidi Schreck’s Tony Award-nominated Pulitzer Prize finalist play was headlined by Cassie Beck as “Heidi.” The play follows Heidi’s experience as a starry-eyed teenage girl who participates in scholarship oration competitions centered around discussions of the United States Constitution. The role of “Legionnaire,” played by Mike Iveson, helped with scene transitions and provided subtle clarity within the plot. Besides that, the first hour of the play was a one-woman show. In the last 30 minutes, Jocelyn Shek, a high school junior from Los Angeles, was welcomed to the stage and engaged in a live debate with Beck concerning whether or not the Constitution should be repealed or reformed — the outcome of the debate was determined by an audience member. As a result, each show can have a different winner.

The most logical way to dissect this play is to divide it into thirds. The first third was generally light-hearted and gave Beck the opportunity to show off her comedic timing and relatability. I think I can speak for most of the crowd when I say my cheeks hurt from smiling and my stomach hurts from laughing. Beck acted as a younger version of Heidi, recreating a scholarship debate at the American Legion — discussing the ninth amendment and her youthful obsession with Patrick Swayze in “Dirty Dancing,” embodying all of the quirks of a teen obsessed with a government document.

The second third of the play is what really made it memorable for me. Heidi reverted back to her adult self to “protect her younger self from the painful parts of her life.” We hear about how Heidi found out she was pregnant in her early 20s and the extensive commute required for her to obtain an abortion, her fear of sexual assault in college, the domestic abuse that led to generational trauma experienced by the women in her family and examples of legal cases where justice was not adequately served. This is done through a careful dissection of the fourteenth amendment, the amendment that guarantees equal protection under the law, but truly only pertains to those who the government perceives as the important citizens –white men.

I learned a lot the night I went to the Broadway Playhouse. I discovered the word “woman” is never explicitly mentioned in the Constitution. That the laws set in place by the founding fathers were not written to protect me, my body or any women at all. Yes, we live in the “land of the free,” but how free can you truly be when governed by a document written 234 years ago and one which, to this day, remains largely enforced by men. There have been and currently are women in Congress, but only five have ever received a seat on the Supreme Court, and no woman has ever been Commander in Chief.

The final third of the play wrestles with the idea of how to make the necessary changes that would allow for all Americans to feel safe and represented. Do we completely repeal the Constitution and start fresh, only to have the new document written yet again by a white male majority? Is the better option to keep the original document and add new amendments that take years to legally ratify? The live debate between Beck and Shek went back and forth until the verdict of the show I saw ultimately was to repeal the Constitution of the United States. As both an actor and musician myself, I have never been shy on stage in front of an audience, but in this case I could not help but avoid eye contact — dreading the idea that I would be the audience member chosen to make the final decision. Truth be told, I don’t know what I would have said, because both options seemed hopeless.

The world witnessed injustice that triggered the Black Lives Matter and #MeToo protests. How is it possible for lawmakers to not see the outrage and act accordingly? What more can be done? Yes, some progress is being made, but slowly and painfully while some states quickly progress backwards — effectively taking away women’s autonomy. I don’t have an answer, and frankly I don’t think that anyone does. However, talking about it and lighting a fire under those who do have power seems to be the goal of “What the Constitution Means to Me,and I think this production is on the right track in that regard.