Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

What the Constitution Means to Me
Santa Fe Playhouse
Review by Dean Yannias

Also see Carole's review of 2024 Bard Crawl: As You Like It

Ariana Roybal and Kate Udall
Photo by C. Stanley Photography
What a great title: What the Constitution Means to Me. People want to know more about the Constitution (since few of us have actually read it), which possibly accounts for why this was the most-produced play in the United States in 2023.

But the salient words in the title are not "What the Constitution Means." The salient words are "to Me." Sure, you will learn something about the Constitution, and more specifically about the Ninth and Fourteenth Amendments. But if it were only a civics lesson, that wouldn't be much of a play, would it?

What makes it an engaging theatrical experience is that it really is about Heidi Schreck, who wrote it and performed it beginning in 2017 and ending up on Broadway in 2019. The main character is Heidi Schreck, and this is her story. And the story of her mother and grandmother and great-grandmother, and lots of other things. I trust that the play is autobiographical and true, because it's a popular play that's been around for a few years and no one has accused her of fabricating or embellishing her own or her family's history.

At Santa Fe Playhouse, with local actors, the play begins with Heidi introducing herself to the audience (there is no fourth wall in this show) and telling us how she got the money for college by giving speeches about the Constitution at American Legion halls around the country when she was a 15-year-old high school debater. She then becomes the teenage Heidi, all gaga over Patrick Swayze, and we hear part of her speech in the American Legion hall in Wenatchee, her hometown in the middle of Washington State. But she interrupts herself, and we start to learn about the grownup Heidi. Over the course of about 90 minutes, we hear about her abortion and the various traumas inflicted on her female progenitors and on other women by men, and what little protection women have against such abuse because there is no positive right of protection in the Constitution (except for protecting the entire country from outside invasion).

There are other tangents as well, such as when the actor playing the Legionnaire breaks character and tells us his own personal coming-of-age story. It's all very meta-theatrical. Almost the entire play is scripted, but the genius of it is that it comes off as extemporaneous, as if it is being made up on the spot.

Toward the end of the show, a local high school debater is invited onto the stage to debate Heidi, one side taking the position that the Constitution should be abolished and reconceived, and the other side taking the position that the existing Constitution should be retained. The audience is invited to whoop it up for whichever side they agree with, and ultimately one audience member will decide the winner of the debate. How much of the debate is scripted and how much is improvised, I couldn't tell, but I did develop a lot of appreciation for the stringencies and think-on-your-feet-ness of high school debate. And I also appreciated the free copy of the Constitution handed out to all the audience members.

I had not seen the play before, but I can't imagine a better production than this one. Lynn Goodwin directs briskly and she has been gifted with a superb cast. Kate Udall, who was perfect last year at this theater in the play Sweat, is equally exceptional as Heidi. You almost can't believe that she is acting to a script. Everything she does is completely natural.

Jonah Scott Mendelsohn is very good as the Legionnaire. He doesn't have a whole lot to do for a while, but his transformation from the stodgy Legionnaire into the actor playing the Legionnaire (see, it's meta times two) is a fine piece of acting. The only other character is the high school debater. At the performance I saw, it was Ariana Roybal who, though quite young, is a stage natural. I honestly could not tell if she had memorized her lines or was just winging it. Maybe you get good at that on a debate team. (She alternates the role with Shaunti.)

The set and lighting by Jared Roberts, props by Emily Rankin, sound by Saibi Khalsa, and stage management by Allison Goetzman are all top-notch.

I have not emphasized that, although there are some serious issues brought up in this play, it is often very funny. Santa Fe Playhouse bills it as a drama, but it's much lighter than that, and it ends on a lovely hopeful note. It's a unique show and it should not be missed.

What the Constitution Means to Me runs through June 2, 2024, at the Santa Fe Playhouse 142 E De Vargas St, Santa Fe NM. Performances Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30; Sundays at 2:00. For tickets and information, please visit