Paramount Theatre’s 2023-2024 BOLD Series continues with “What the Constitution Means to Me,” an honest piece of theater that searches for the humanity in America’s founding document. Brisk and poignant, the show looks at the impact of the U.S. Constitution on Americans, who it was and wasn’t made for, and its relevance today.
While most teenagers were hanging out with friends and going to the movies, Heidi was competing in Constitutional debate contests at American Legion Halls for college scholarship money. We meet Heidi in her forties, in a re-creation of one of these halls and its wood-paneled rooms, in her hometown of Wenatchee, Washington. Over the course of a hundred minutes, Heidi swaps between reliving her time as a bubbly fifteen-year-old competing in the American Legion Oratory Contest and herself today, older and with twenty-five-plus years added life experience, turning a more-informed eye to the Constitution, a piece of writing she once knew backwards and forwards.
If judged by the title, “What the Constitution Means to Me” might not immediately be on every theatergoer’s must-see list, but judging by the reactions of members of the opening-night audience at Aurora’s intimate Copley Theatre, maybe it should be.
This is a very personal piece that examines heavy content including inherited trauma, violence, human trafficking and the quiet history of abuse suffered by those explicitly unaccounted for in the Constitution—generally anyone unable to present as white, heterosexual, cisgender or male. The U.S. Constitution has substantially affected the lives of Americans, but it has not changed with the times, often rendering it frustratingly opaque, even in cases of life or death. If you’re willing to listen, this show is an education.
Although Heidi (played by an open-hearted Cory Goodrich) is our leading narrator for the evening, she does temporarily cede the floor to the Legionnaire (Kevin McKillip, funny and feeling) who offers his own perspective as someone who presents as white and cisgender. These players contain multitudes. It’s a difficult thing to simply exist, but the nuances of what it has taken each to not only live but survive and, what’s more, attempt to thrive in the world, add to the pathos of the show. The play also uses actual soundbites from Supreme Court cases to great effect, further illustrating the stunning disconnect between those who interpret the law and those who feel its impact.
At the performance I attended, it was overwhelmingly clear that there was a generational divide, or at least a gap of knowledge about the unfair treatment inflicted upon women and others of certain status, creed, orientation or race. Some audience members audibly reacted in shock to reveals throughout the show, while others sat back and simply nodded, unsurprised. This show is a valuable teaching tool, one we need in a post-Roe v. Wade America.
The play ends with a real debate between Heidi and a teenage Debater, played by earnest Vivian Webb on opening night. The two verbally spar over whether or not it’s time for the Constitution to be abolished and rewritten. It’s a tough question and the audience gets to weigh in, allowing for a unique outcome at each performance.
We may not yet know what the right answer is for “we the people” but it’s encouraging to see us try to figure it out, even if it’s just for show.
“What the Constitution Means to Me” at Paramount’s Copley Theatre, 8 East Galena Boulevard, Aurora, (630)896-6666, paramountaurora.com, single tickets are $45-$55. Through November 12.