The nation is on broadcast. Be it daytime TV hosts, YouTubers, friends, neighbors, or corporations, everyone is telling their “story.” To stand out from this wall of noise, you must be that much louder, charismatic and — here’s the big one — oh so relatable.
Thus, arrives Heidi Schreck with her (almost) one-woman show What the Constitution Means to Me (★★★☆☆), about her life-long love of the Constitution despite its foibles and failings. Beaming, enthusiastic, weepy, earnest, and often seriously funny, she is that slightly wacky but brilliant friend who’s had a few too many Chardonnays. It’s her life story at speed with worm-hole digressions into heartfelt concerns for women’s rights — or maybe it’s the other way around. Either way, it’s just how mainstream America likes it: high-octane, chatty, and cute.
There is no doubt that Schreck’s research into women’s rights past and present and how they relate to the epidemic of domestic violence, also past and present, is powerfully informative. That she weaves it into her memories as a kid traveling the country to debate her favorite living document makes for a clever premise. Managing to look wrapped in the American flag while actually getting rebellious about it is pretty nifty, too. Offering her deeply private family history, even in our oversharing culture, is downright brave.
But truth be told, it’s too much of a good thing. Schreck needs an editor, preferably one descended from Mr. Spock. First and worst, there are just too many verklempt moments followed by a revelation from her personal narrative. After the first hour of this, every time Schreck pauses, one braces for impact. No one can ride such a roller-coaster without sympathy fatigue. The other toe-curler here is that genuine as the delivery is, it creeps perilously close to snowflake territory. Case in point: Can you really have “survivor’s guilt” when the “bomb” went off in a previous generation? And although it’s par for the course these days, Schreck’s certainty that her every thought and experience is novel and fascinating muddies what actually is.
Finally, the piece simply runs too long. By the time the phenomenal Rosdely Ciprian arrives at the eleventh hour, the tank is almost empty. Ciprian’s amazing performance — and what it represents — may serve as Schreck’s tribute to the future of unfettered womanhood, but at nearly two hours, it overeggs an already eggy Constitutional batter. Their final chit-chat answering audience questions feels tacked on and adds little. Ditto the mini-monologue delivered by the otherwise comically-adept Mike Iveson.
For many What the Constitution Means to Me will remain the most fun, most accessible way to learn just how useless the Constitution is to a woman staring down the barrel of a partner’s gun.
What the Constitution Means to Me runs through Sept. 22 at the Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater. Tickets are $49 to $169. Call 202-467-4600 or visit www.kennedy-center.org.
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