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‘What the Constitution Means to Me’ at ICT gets personal and political, with spunk

This review was published in the Long Beach Watchdog on May 13, 2024.

Kelley Dorney (Heidi Schreck) in "What the Constitution Means to Me" at International City Theatre (Photo by Kayte Deioma)

In this pivotal election year, it may be especially important to remember not only who and what you’re voting for, but why you can even vote, especially if you’re a woman or person of color.


Continuing through May 19 at International City Theatre (ICT) and directed by Artistic Director caryn desai [sic], “What the Constitution Means to Me” delivers such a reminder with high energy and humor, thanks to Kelley Dorney's perky performance as playwright and self-proclaimed Constitution “zealot” Heidi Schreck.

 

Dressed in a bright yellow jacket, Dorney as Schreck tells us up front that the play will recall her tour of American Legion halls as a 15-year-old, earning money for college by speaking to veterans about how the Constitution impacted her personally.

 

While the performance certainly begins that way – with Tom Trudgeon playing a Legion moderator – layers begin peeling away like an onion as we soon get Schreck speaking not as a witch-obsessed teen but a woman in her 40s recalling a family legacy of misogyny, and eventually Dorney speaking personally as her actress self.

From left: Kelley Dorney (Heidi Schreck) and Tom Trudgeon (Legionnaire) in "What the Constitution Means to Me" at International City Theatre (Photo by Kayte Deioma)

What Shreck delivers is chock full of Constitutional perspective, especially the implications of the Ninth and Fourteenth Amendments. But far from feeling like an A.P. Government class – and despite the haunting truths she shares, both personal and statistical – the performance is delightfully engaging and funny throughout.

 

We get to know Schreck’s family history in the state of Washington and how the Constitution impacted not only its women but all American women, historically and recently, such as how police refused to protect the daughters of a woman in Colorado who were kidnapped and killed by their estranged father.

Kelley Dorney (Heidi Schreck) in "What the Constitution Means to Me" at International City Theatre (Photo by Kayte Deioma)

We hear grainy clips of Supreme Court justices in 2005 debating whether or not that woman and her daughters deserved police protection, and other debates that directly affect women in America, including the right to undergo an abortion.

 

Such details underscore the biases not only of the Constitution’s original writers in 1787 but of those charged with enforcing its tenets since then. We come to understand that the document mostly defines our rights “negatively” through governmental non-interference rather than “positively” asserting what they are.

 

“What the Constitution Means to Me” is not structured as a play in the traditional sense; its narrative arc is not so much a progression of character as our progressive understanding of the document by a passionate yet charming character. It also includes what seems like a digression by Trudgeon as Mike, a man who meaningfully discusses his own experiences growing up as a non-traditional male.

From left: Kelley Dorney (Heidi Schreck), Sheila Correa (Debater) and Tom Trudgeon (Mike) in "What the Constitution Means to Me" at International City Theatre (Photo by Kayte Deioma)

The show culminates in a riveting debate between Dorney and a young woman (an articulate and likable Sheila Correa) on whether the Constitution should be abolished, with the audience encouraged to participate with cheers or boos on each point.

 

With its combination of political pointedness, humanity and humor, it’s easy to see why “What the Constitution Means to Me” was a finalist for the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in drama. And the disarmingly expressive Dorney – who switches emotional gears on a dime and responds to audience reactions without missing a beat – makes ICT’s production a “must see” this election year.

 

International City Theatre’s “What the Constitution Means to Me” continues through May 19 at the Beverly O’Neill Theater, 330 E. Seaside Way, Long Beach, with shows Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $49 to $52 and can be purchased by calling (562) 436-4610 or visiting ICTLongBeach.org. Run time is 100 minutes without intermission.

 

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