Downtown Hit 'What the Constitution Means to Me' Sets Broadway Move

WHAT THE CONSTITUTION MEANS TO ME _Production Still - Publicity - H 2019
Joan Marcus

Writer-performer Heidi Schreck's uniquely personal political play was the surprise sensation of the fall off-Broadway, drawing an impressive assortment of famous names.

Add one more title to what is already an uncommonly busy Broadway season for new American plays.

Following a sold-out premiere run in the fall at off-Broadway's New York Theatre Workshop and a subsequent extension at the Greenwich House Theater, Heidi Schreck's What the Constitution Means to Me will move uptown this spring, beginning previews March 14 at Broadway's Helen Hayes Theatre ahead of a March 31 opening night.

Schreck worked for 10 years on the timely play, a trenchant, funny, deeply personal and ineffably human reflection on the document that frames our government, for better or worse. It's viewed through the prism of Schreck's teenage experiences as a competitor on the American Legion debate circuit, dissecting the U.S. Constitution and collecting prize money to finance her college tuition. The work also digs deep into her own history and that of the women in her family, exploring the document's real-life impact on women's rights with an eye both to the past and the future.

Directed by Oliver Butler, the production landed on the 2018 top 10 theater lists of a string of publications, including The Hollywood Reporter, securing the top-ranked spot on a handful of them. 

During the downtown run at both theaters, the unique show became a magnet for names from across entertainment, media and politics. Among them was Hillary Clinton, who caught the production along with her husband and daughter, calling it "an empowering call to consider what it means to be a citizen."

Others who were among the play's off-Broadway audiences include Sally Field, Gloria Steinem, Tony Kushner, Jake Gyllenhaal, Tatiana Maslany, America Ferrera, Zachary Quinto, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Darren Criss, Tony Shalhoub, Diane Lane, Michael Shannon, Marisa Tomei, Anna Deveare Smith, Sara Bareilles and Mandy Patinkin.

"Telling these stories night after night has been a revelatory experience for me," said Schreck in a statement. "People stay after the show to share their own stories with me, stories about this country, about their parents and grandparents, and about the incredible perseverance of the women in their families. I have been so deeply moved by the passionate and open-hearted response to this show and I can't wait to share it with a bigger audience — both on Broadway and around the country."

A planned April engagement at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in Washington, D.C., will now be rescheduled after the Broadway run.

All four members of the original cast will move uptown with the production. Schreck plays herself both in the present and at age 15, with Mike Iveson as an American Legion moderator, and two remarkably poised New York City high school students, Rosdely Ciprian and Thursday Williams, alternating as Schreck's debate opponents.

Produced by Diana DiMenna, Aaron Glick and Matt Ross, the transfer is a limited 12-week engagement, scheduled to run through June 9. The move came together following the early Jan. 6 closing due to disappointing sales of Harvey Fierstein's Torch Song at the Hayes, creating a vacancy at Broadway's most intimate house.

The 2018-19 theater season is going to be one of the most competitive in years for best play honors at the Tony Awards in June. 

New works from American writers already seen on Broadway this season include Straight White Men, Bernhardt/HamletThe Lifespan of a Fact, American Son, The New One, Choir Boy and Aaron Sorkin's smash adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird, along with Brit imports The Nap, The Ferryman and Network.

Still to come before the April 25 cutoff for Tony eligibility are Taylor Mac's Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus, Lucas Hnath's Hillary and Clinton and James Graham's Ink, about the young Rupert Murdoch.

In addition to her work as a playwright and Obie-winning stage and television actor, Schreck has written for TV on I Love DickBillions and Nurse Jackie, and currently is developing a series for Amazon based on Patricia Lockwood's memoir, Priestdaddy. What the Constitution Means to Me will mark her Broadway debut, along with those of her fellow cast and director.