Heidi Schreck — the talented Obie award-winning playwright (Grand Concourse by Shotgun Players), TV writer (Billions) and actress (In the Wake) — returns to Berkeley with an appealing extemporization that wafts between a recitation of her scholarship-winning high school speech about the Constitution and the personal history of four generations of women in her family.
And yes, she ties together these subjects through her knowledgeable exposition on the significance of our Constitution, particularly the Ninth and 14th Amendments and the rights they grant to women and people of color.
Schreck is assured and charming in her delivery of the subject matter through the 90-minute, no-intermission play. Largely a one-woman show, Schreck is ably aided by Danny Wolohan (Tragedy: A tragedy, Concerning Strange Devices from the Distance West), who plays the debate judge, and local first-rate debater, 15-year-old Anaya Mathews. Obie Award-winning Oliver Butler adeptly directs the piece, keeping its combination of homeyness and intellectual Constitutional analysis on track.
After a brief introduction, Schreck reenacts her 1989 scholarship competition, which required that she choose a metaphor for the Constitution and connect it to her own life. Speaking from a podium on a simple set simulating the American Legion hall in her home town of Wenatchee, Washington, Schreck appealingly impersonates her vivacious, quirky 15-year-old self as she likens the Constitution to a sweaty crucible, among other lively teen-aged imagery.
In the most intimate and essential segments of What the Constitution Means to Me, Schreck talks about the lives of her female ancestors, most of whom were subjugated by men. She also talks about how different her life is from theirs. With the scholarship money she won on the American Legion Constitution contest circuit, she paid for her college education, had access to a legal abortion, and lived for a while in Siberia, before becoming her accomplished theatrical self.
In counterbalance to her family history, Schreck’s rather sophisticated examination of our Constitution includes her disappointment that the Justices relied on the less substantial right to privacy in deciding Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973). She also quotes the Notorious RBG (Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg) in answering, “Nine,” to the question about how many women would have to sit on the high court to satisfy her.
Unfortunately, the last minutes of this engaging work are disjointedly devoted to a Lincoln/Douglas style debate between Schreck and Anaya Mathews, followed by the two asking each other questions about themselves. This ending, or lack thereof, added to the sense that the production has the look and feel of a work still in progress.
What the Constitution Means to Me is playing at Berkeley Rep’s Peet’s Theatre through June 17. For information, extended dates and tickets, visit Berkeley Rep’s website.