And with a return to Jr. High Debating Club, our theatrical year starts off with a bang, and a reminder of why this year is so important. The fundamentals of our nation are at stake, and this play reminds us why we must get out there and march and vote to protect our hard fought rights.
But back to Jr. High first. When I was in 8th and 9th grade, I was in Mrs. WIlliams Debate Club, and I actually enjoyed debating. Researching the premise, establishing your position, defending your thoughts. It was wonderful mental exercise and training.
The production currently at the Mark Taper Forum, What the Constitution Means to Me, is centered around the debate that is at the heart of America. It presents the real story of the play’s author, Heidi Schreck (FB), represented here by Maria Dizzia (FB). It essentially has three acts. In the first, Shreck goes back to her days as a 15 year-old doing American Legion debates for college funds, talking about what the constitution means to her. This includes digression into areas of interest to her, such as what the constitution says about womens rights and Native American rights. The second part brings us the story of the current Shreck, her family history of violence against women and abortion, and what the constitution says about that. In the third and last part, Shreck debates a 15-year old student about whether to keep or rewrite the constitution. The production was directed by Oliver Butler.
In trying to decide how to write this up, I read McNulty’s review in the LA Times. For the general opinion on the production, I agree with McNulty:
Let me preface this review of Heidi Schreck’s “What the Constitution Means to Me” with a strong plea to every man, woman and mature teenager in the Los Angeles area to see this play, which opened Friday at the Mark Taper Forum.
At a time when the Constitution is being assailed by those who have sworn an oath to defend it, this buoyant and often-stirring civics lesson is the theatrical curriculum Americans desperately need now.
As much a play as a performance piece, “What the Constitution Means to Me” reveals with courageous poignancy the way our nation’s founding legal document intersects with the choices, opportunities, relationships and destinies of those who have had to fight for their foothold in our imperfect democracy.
I agree with McNulty’s assessment of Shreck and the subject matter. Caution is required for those who have experienced sexual violence: there is reference to it in the play, and it could be triggery for some. But, alas, how our constitutions protects or fails to protect those subject to violence should be even more reason for people to vote.
You also get a present from this production: A pocket copy of the constitution courtesy of the ACLU. Read it. It’s scary at times. For example, it only refers to the President as “he”. Could this be used by originalists to argue that women can’t be President. This is why we so need the ERA to pass. It also shows that the President could shut down Congress with a declaration of an emergency. I wouldn’t put it past this President to do so if he couldn’t get his way — again, reason to vote.
This play demonstrates that the constitution is personal, and affects everyone one of us. It is why we must fight to defend it against those who would abuse it or make it a travesty.
As I said, I agree with McNulty’s assessment of the play, and of Dizzia’s performance. They did make a change in the play for the tour: about two-thirds into the play, the artifice of Dizzia’s playing Shreck is abandoned, and she is herself, sharing some of her story and what the constitution means to her. McNulty also covers well the fellow who plays the American Legion representative (and himself): Mike Iveson (TW). McNulty also covers the student debater who performs Wed, Fri, Sat matinee, and Sunday evening, Rosdely Ciprian.
However, Rosdely’s not the only student. Tues, Thurs, Sat evening, and Sunday matinee we get a local student, Jocelyn Shek (FB). That’s who we had, and we were impressed with the young woman and her debating style. For a stage-novice, she shows the poise and quick thinking that debate training gives one.
The set design is a simple representation of the American Legion hall, designed by Rachel Hauck. The costume design of Michael Krass was similarly simple. There wasn’t that much for the lighting (Jen Schriever) and sound design (Sinan Refik Zafar) to do other than simply work, and that they did well. Other production credits: Sarah Lunnie Dramaturg; Tatiana Pandiani Assoc Director; Taylor Williams CSA Casting; Nicole Olson Production Stage Manager; Terri K. Kohler Stage Manager; Michael Camp Company Manager; Bethany Weinstein Stewert Production Management; MEP and 321 Theatrical Management General Management.
What the Constitution Means to Me continues at the Mark Taper Forum/Center Theatre Group through February 28. Tickets are available through the CTG box office; discount tickets may be available on Goldstar or on TodayTix. This is a show every American — or anyone wanting to understand the Constitution — should see
Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted (or I’ll make a donation to the theatre, in lieu of payment). I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Soraya/VPAC (FB), and the Musical Theatre Guild (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.
Things heat up in February, with The Last Ship (with Sting) at the Ahmanson Theatre the first weekend. The second weekend brings West Adams at Skylight Theatre (FB) on Saturday, and the $5 Shakespeare Company from The Sixth Act (FB) at Theatre 68 on Sunday. The third weekend brings A Body of Water at Actors Co-op (FB) and It Shoulda Been You at Musical Theatre Guild (FB). To top all of that, the fourth weekend brings The Simon and Garfunkel Story at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Escape to Margaritaville at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (FB), and Step Afrika at the Soraya/VPAC (FB) the fourth weekend. Yes, that is the Pantages and the Dolby the same day — that’s what I get for not entering season tickets on my calendar before ticketing a bonus show. The last weekend is open, but I’ll probably find some theatre in Madison WI when I’m out there; alas, I’ll be missing both Nefesh Mountain at Temple Israel of Hollywood and Tom Paxton and the Don Juans at McCabes.
March starts with Passion at Boston Court (FB) the first weekend. The 2nd weekend brings the MRJ Man of the Year dinner (and possibly The Wild Party at Morgan Wixson). The 3rd brings Morris’ Room at Actors Co-op (FB) ; and the last weekend brings Spongebob Squarepants at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (FB) and the MoTAS/TBH Seder. April is similarly busy: the 1st weekend is Mamma Mia at 5 Star Theatricals (FB); the 2nd is during Pesach and is open (but has Count Basie at the Soraya/VPAC (FB) the Thursday before); the 3rd is Once on This Island at the Ahmanson Theatre; the last is Hamilton at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) (and possibly Hands on a Hardbody at the Charles Stewart Howard Playhouse (FB)), and the first weekend of May is Mean Girls at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (FB)
As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget. Want to learn about all the great theatre in Southern California? Read my post on how Los Angeles (and its environs) is the best area for theatre in the Country!