Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

What the Constitution Means to Me
The Phoenix Theatre Company
Review by Gil Benbrook

Also see Gil's reviews of Patti LuPone: A Life in Notes, School Girls; or, The African Mean Girls Play and The Diary of Anne Frank, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (School Edition)

Kate Haas
Photo by Brennan Russell
Heidi Schreck's autobiographical play What the Constitution Means to Me is a highly entertaining piece that also challenges, informs and enlightens. The play weaves together Schreck's own personal experiences with the history and complexities of the United States Constitution. Featuring a superb performance by local actress Kate Haas, the production at The Phoenix Theatre Company will most likely give you plenty of food for thought for post-show conversation, debate and contemplation.

Michelle Chin's incisive direction brings Kate Haas's portrayal of Heidi Schreck to life with an electrifying energy. Set within an American Legion Hall, we learn how Schreck participated in various competitions debating the Constitution when she was a teenager in order to win prize money to pay for college. Throughout the 100-minute play, Heidi demonstrates her love for and knowledge of the Constitution. She also makes it clear how, for more than a century after the Constitution was signed, it afforded very little protection for women, minorities, or indigenous people.

While many of the amendments to the Constitution have given rights to those groups, there have also been laws passed that have taken them away. Heidi shares intimate details of her family and her own life and manages to connect her history to the importance of the Constitution while also stressing its importance to provide equality and justice for all. With Haas speaking directly to the audience, and even stepping off the stage numerous times, Chin's staging creates a sense of immediacy and intimacy, drawing the audience into Schreck's world from the very beginning.

One of the most engaging aspects of the play is Schreck's ability to make the Constitution feel alive and relevant. She has found a way to connect her personal journey with both historical and contemporary social issues. She also shows how reproductive rights and protections for violence against women have always proven controversial and how rights for women and minorities were never specified in the Constitution. In doing so, she demonstrates how this centuries-old document continues to shape and impact our lives in profound and incredibly important ways.

As interesting as the play is, there is some unevenness to the piece as well as times when there are abrupt changes in tone. At first, it seems the play is a way for Heidi to look back at her 15-year-old self and the joy she got in these competitions, later it's a way for her to talk about how women had almost no protection in the Constitution and how violence against women has caused more women to die than those who died in all of the wars fought by Americans. Later, it's a way for the fictional Legionnaire to talk about how he's a "good man," and then it morphs again into a debate between an actual local high school student and Haas playing herself. There is a moment when the character of Heidi says that everything in the play is relevant and connected, but some of the sections seemed forced in or tangents that weren't fully fleshed out. However, as slightly unfocused as some moments are, it is still a powerful piece and an intriguing exploration of the Constitution.

Haas's performance as Schreck is fresh, authentic, and constantly engaging. She commands the stage with constant charisma and effortlessly navigates the complex emotions and ideas presented in Schreck's autobiographical play, engaging the audience with her wit, vulnerability, and keen knowledge on the subjects. With plenty of warmth, Rob Watson plays the fictionalized Legionnaire character who occasionally adds tension but also compassion to the play. The last segment of the piece is with a teenager who faces Haas in a debate on whether to keep or throw out and rewrite the constitution. Three different teenagers (Archer Todd, Kayla Treviño, Tess Willingham) alternate in this role and at the performance I attended Treviño offered a spirited and incisive performance that makes me proud on how our future, and potentially the future of the Constitution, is in the hands of such a smart and talented individual.

Whether discussing reproductive rights, immigration policy, or the rights of Indigenous peoples, Schreck's play brings a contemporary lens to the constitutional debates of the past, inviting us to consider how they inform our present and future. It's a play that's as entertaining as it is enlightening while also inviting us to reflect on our own relationship to the ideals of democracy and freedom.

What the Constitution Means to Me runs through June 16, 2024, at The Phoenix Theatre Company, 1825 N Central Avenue, Phoenix AZ. For tickets and information, please visit or call 602-254-2151.

Director: Michelle Chin
Scenic Designer: Douglas Clarke
Lighting Designer: Nathaniel White
Costume, Hair & Makeup Designer, Properties Master: Sarah Harris
Sound Designer: Chris Neumeyer
Director of Production: Karla Frederick
Stage Manager: Katherine Roll Lang
Associate Director of Production: Tyler Welden

Cast (in alphabetical order):
Heidi: Kate Haas*
Legionnaire: Rob Watson
Debaters: Kayla Treviño

*Members of Actors' Equity Association, the union of professional actors & stage managers in the U.S.