Updated: Aug 5, 2021
The new take on Broadway’s play called What the Constitution Means to Me defies typical movie reviewer reactions. We critics usually chastise filmmakers who fail to make a screen version of a play feel cinematic. But both director Marielle Heller and writer/star Heidi Schreck deserve kudos for bringing the sense of an intimate play onto home screens.
A Pulitzer Prize finalist that boasts both Obie and New York Drama Critics awards, What the Constitution Means to Me features only three performers on one set. This makes for a close and personal feeling in person on stage, a sense film director Heller recaptures with deceptive simplicity. Heller, well-respected for directing the Mr. Rogers biopic It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, uses six cameras to prevent a static, talking head presentation. This captures the range of Schreck’s autobiographical recounting of her days as a speech debater. Sound dry? Not at all.
Standing on a stage designed to look like a room at an American Legion center, Schreck explains how at age 15, she started her college fund by winning debates about the United States Constitution. Thoroughly practiced in her delivery, Schreck nonetheless sounds spontaneous as she explains the evolution of her feelings about the document. Her stories lead to a memorable finale when she re-enacts the formal debate format with the question, “Should the Constitution be abolished?”
As in her live presentation, she invites a youthful, star debater on stage with her. The filmed version uses Rosedely Ciprian, a 14-year-old whose confidence and grace astound and serve as a note of hope about the future generation of leaders. Ciprian started with the play a couple of years ago, shifting her role with another prize-winning debater, Thursday Williams.
Take the time to watch a special side feature provided on Amazon Prime, and you can see Williams do a different take on the same debate. Sure, it means a lot of dialogue, and we film critics often get annoyed about talky projects. But not when that talk includes such vital and thought-provoking matters. The project lets us know what the Constitution means to Schreck, and it warrants asking what it means to you. The show streams on Amazon Prime.