Saturday, October 20, 2018

105 (2018-2019): Review: APOLOGIA (seen October 19, 2018)

“The Dinner That Goes Wrong”

Female activists from the 60s are currently storming Off Broadway’s barricades, what with the recently opened Gloria: A Life, starring Christine Lahti as the real-life Gloria Steinem, and Alexi Kaye Campbell’s Apologia, starring Stockard Channing as the fictional Kristin Miller. I haven’t seen Gloria yet so I’m not sure what, if anything, the plays have in common, but it’s hard not to watch the mildly entertaining if unexceptionally conventional Apologia without thinking of Ms. Steinem.

Campbell’s comedy-drama—with a splash of farce—is primarily attractive for its memorable portrait (and Channing’s performance) of Kristin, a woman in her late sixties, whose life as an art historian and political idealist has not been without collateral damage.

Apologia, originally staged in London in 2009, was revived there last year under Jamie Lloyd’s direction, with Channing receiving rave reviews. She repeats her strong performance in the play’s New York premiere at the Laura Pels Theatre, briskly directed by Daniel Aukin for the Roundabout Theatre Company.
Kristin, an ex-pat American (Campbell rewrote the original British character for Channing), who disdains the shallowness of Americans and American culture, lives in an English countryside cottage, realistically designed by Dane Laffrey. (Bradley King designed the lights and Anita Yavich the costumes). Arriving to celebrate her birthday are her older son, the 40ish Peter (Hugh Dancy, excellent in a thinly drawn role), a banker his mother blames for raping the Third World, and Peter’s American girlfriend, Trudi (Talene Monahon, rather strident), a sincere young woman from Nebraska. The Liberian mask they’ve brought as a gift will generate discussion and come to have thematic, albeit awkwardly contrived, overtones when its provenance is uncovered. 
Also present are Kristin’s gay, witty, English friend, Hugh (John Tillinger, charmingly urbane), who’s been her fellow protest marcher for over 40 years, and Claire (Megalyn Echikunwoke, excellent), the stunning, if somewhat shallow, star of a TV series. She’s the girlfriend of Kristin’s slightly younger son, the emotionally damaged Simon (also played by Dancy), who doesn’t show up for a while, giving Kristin something to be nervous about until he arrives. 
Until then, she has lots of other stuff on her plate, although not the chicken she was cooking, since the oven isn’t working. Hugh thus has to order in fish and chips, much to his ultimate gastronomic distress. (Must've been those mushy peas.) The action circles around Kristin’s supercilious reactions to everyone, and theirs to her, especially in relation to her recent book, Apologia, a memoir, in which she discusses things like the art of Giotto. 
The title Apologia is explained by Kristin as meaning “a formal, written defence of one’s opinions or conduct,” and isn’t meant as an apology. There are actually several apologies in the play but getting one from Kristin is no easy thing. Seeking one, though, becomes the play’s core when Peter, and then Simon, furiously express their disappointment at not having been mentioned in her book. This is tied to what they perceive as her selfish abandonment of them as children to their father’s custody when she and he got divorced; her preoccupation with her career and activism are also blamed. Kristin’s explanation is barely an excuse, much less an apology.

Kristin, unable to maintain congeniality, can’t hide her scorn for those she considers cultural yahoos, which may make you want to throttle her. Trudi is American so that’s one strike against her; strike two, she believes in Christianity; and strike three is that she met Peter at a prayer meeting and that he’s showing an interest in religion.
Kristin’s love of Renaissance humanism, even if expressed in a wonderful speech about a Giotto painting showing Mary embracing Christ, has no place for religious belief, as underscored in one of the several scenes intended for discussion and not dramatic action. She may march on behalf of the downtrodden but she shows little patience for those uncommitted to progressive causes.

Then there’s Claire, whose fame and fortune are tied to her success acting in what Kristin keeps denigrating as a soap opera, no matter how earnestly Claire rationalizes it as being on a higher level. Kristin appreciates that Claire once played Nora in an experimental production of A Doll’s House, but, in her narrow world view, she doesn’t think twice about using the word “whore” for anyone making and spending money instead of advancing a cause.

Thus, when Claire reveals how much her high-fashion dress cost (an odd choice to wear to a country cottage, one might think), you can imagine Kristin’s response. The fate of that dress, by the way, will not only provide a note of satisfaction for Kristin but also be yet another pseudo-farcical device inspiring the title of this review. And I haven’t even mentioned the artificiality of the contretemps involving Kristin accidentally answering Claire’s phone.

Kristin is smart and sarcastically funny but she’s not a pleasant person. Stockard Channing, though, makes her believable and even recognizable, a woman who has created, as Claire rather perceptively declares, a “carapace” around her, a shell that protects her from anything that threatens her idealism. 

Apologia, in two acts running two hours and 10 minutes, is loosely structured around character revelations rather than plotting. Some of it seems familiar from other plays (especially the Seagull-like scene between Simon and Kristin as she tends to his injured hand), and not a little comes off as phony and cliched. But it’s never boring, has some worthwhile moments, and, when you get right down to it, Stockard Channing. And, for her presence, no apologies are needed.


Laura Pels Theatre
111 W. 46th St., NYC
Through December 16

104 (2018-2019): Review: FIREFLIES (seen October 18, 2018)

"The Wings of a Prayer"

For my review of Fireflies please click on THE BROADWAY BLOG.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

103 (2018-2019): Review: ORDINARY DAYS (seen October 18, 2018)

"Four Bites of the Big Apple"

Ordinary Days, Adam Gwon’s bookless, sung-through, chamber musical, is one of those intimate little shows that has gained something of a cult following with its depiction of young strivers seeking love and fulfillment within the bustle of New York City. Following its 2008 premiere in London’s Off West End, it was given an admired Off-Broadway production by Roundabout in 2009 and has had multiple international stagings since then. Its first New York revival, kicking off the Keen Company’s 19th season, is enjoyably well done but nothing notably out of the ordinary. 

Whitney Bashor, Kyle Sherman. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Performed on a utilitarian set of black platforming and translucent cube-like enclosures (one of them hiding its piano, reed, and bass orchestra, led by John Bell), it’s about two couples. One is Deb (Sarah Lynn Marion) and Warren (Kyle Sherman), the other is Jason (Marc delaCruz) and Claire (Whitney Bashor). A flip phone reminds us that it’s 2007. 

Warren’s a gay, sweet-natured, somewhat nerdy, aspiring artist who does odd jobs (like cat-sitting and handing out flyers) for a trust fund-wealthy artist. Deb’s a sassy-mouthed grad student who’s at her wit’s end because she’s lost her loosely bound book of research notes for a thesis on Virginia Woolf. Warren finds the notes, notices Deb’s email address, and arranges to meet her at the Metropolitan Museum to return them.

Their bumpy friendship begins when the distressed Deb has a rude (and rather unconvincing) way of showing her appreciation, calling Warren a “fucking weirdo.” Of course, as they discuss art and aspirations, they eventually resolve their mutual issues as they discover “the big picture” of their mutual ambitions.
Kyle Sherman, Sarah Lynn Marion. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Jason and Claire are seriously in love. He lives 14 blocks away and wants to be closer, so they agree on his moving in with her. This, though, causes their relationship to stumble. Because of tensions Claire’s feeling but that we can’t at first fathom, his proposal that they marry causes their break up. Only later, when Claire sings about it, do we learn the sad reason boy has lost girl. Of course, there’s still time before the final curtain for boy to win girl again.
Sarah Lynn Marion, Kyle Sherman. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Each couple’s story is enacted separately from the other in alternating scenes. While the couples never actually meet, they now and then pass each other as people occupying the same urban space. The thinness of Gwon’s plotting is not substantially enhanced by these unsurprising characters, nor are the experiences they encounter notably illuminating. It’s all pleasant enough but there’s a been-there, heard-and-seen-that feeling that simply fails to ignite.
Whitney Bashor, Marc delaCruz. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
The burden of maintaining our interest lies in the sequence of Gwon’s narratively-oriented songs, whose clever lyrics define who’s singing them and provide the expository background. A couple of numbers stand out from the 14 heard in this revival, one of those that most delighted me being “Calm,” a rapid patter song Deb performs while standing in a crowded subway car as she fights to find calm amidst all the pressures she’s feeling.

The excellence of Sarah Lynn Marion’s lightly comic rendition is matched by Whitney Bashor’s moving expression of Claire’s “I’ll Be Here,” the 11 o'clock number in which we learn what’s behind Claire’s commitment issues. Admittedly, despite the reason being a contrivance that expects the knee jerk response it receives, it’s still hard not to feel a lump in your throat when you hear it.

Too many of the other numbers, though, are in the generic, faux-Sondheim mode of narrating rhyming exposition to a steady beat. Their witty lyrics are often a delight but the melodies tend to bleed into one another.
Sarah Lynn Marion, Kyle Sherman. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Jonathan Silverstein’s direction elicits all the right emotional notes from his appealing cast, whom he moves about with spirited élan. The performers have charm, fine voices, and the acting skills to bring their songs to life. Visually, though, Steven C. Kemp’s neutral set is too bland, and Anshuman Batia’s lighting, despite his use of marquee light strips, could do more to kick up the effect. Jennifer Paar provides amusingly kooky clothes for Deb and Warren; Claire and Jason, not so much.
Marc delaCruz, Kyle Sherman, Sarah Lynn Marion, Whitney Bashor. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
What most catches your eye comes when, near the end of this 80-minute show, Deb and Warren toss dozens of colored pages (his art and her notes) into the air, creating a vivid paper rainstorm. At that moment, the too frequently ordinary Ordinary Days becomes extraordinary.
Kyle Sherman, Sarah Lynn Marion. Photo: Carol Rosegg.


Clurman Theatre/Theatre Row
410 W. 42nd St., NYC
Through November 17

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

102 (2018-2019): Review: POPCORN FALLS (seen October 16, 2018)

“More Butter, Please”

A lot of talent, effort, and energy has gone into James Hindman’s Off-Broadway confection, Popcorn Falls. What it needs, though, is more of the butter of unforced laughter. Originally produced last year, with positive reactions, at the Riverbank Theatre, Marine City, MI, Popcorn Falls is a play you visit more for the flavor of its gimmicky premise than the nutrition of its dramatic value.

Under the agile comic direction, however, of two-time Tony-winning Broadway star, Christian Borle (Something Rotten! and Peter and the Starcatcher), making his directing debut, it provides a digestible, if not always rib-tickling, theatrical snack. 
Adam Heller, Tom Souhrada. Photo: Monique Carboni.
The gimmick is to have two versatile actors, Adam Heller and Tom Souhrada, portray all 21 characters in the play’s comedically melodramatic plot. This concerns a bankrupt small town’s effort to avoid the fiscal necessity of  having their downtown area converted to a sewage plant. It’s a project sponsored by Mr. Doyle (Souhadra), the wicked head of the Cattaraugus County Budget Planning Committee. Doyle is foiled, though, by Mr. Trundle (Heller), the new mayor of Popcorn Falls, who, noting a loophole, decides to save the town by using local talent to start a theatre and put on a play (so much for original subject matter).
Tom Souhrada, Adam Heller. Photo: Monique Carboni.
Carefully written for its two-actor premise, the play introduces a panoply of exceedingly eccentric local yokels, male and female, young and old. Changing their voices, facial expressions, gestures, and postures, Heller and Souhadra deftly suggest who’s who by using only the most basic of props, like spectacles, hats, and the like. A shirt becomes an apron, a blanket a cat. By holding up a baseball cap at eye level, the person to whom one is talking is conjured out of thin air.

The actors transform from role to role with the speed of light either before our eyes or by exiting one of the doors at either side of the stage and entering almost immediately from the other. They often shape shift right before our eyes.

So many characters come and go, it’s necessary for Heller and Souhadra to exaggerate egregiously to avoid confusion. This, of course, only emphasizes the shallowness of the characters and makes us attend not to the obviously paper-thin narrative but to the constant stream of show biz shtick.
Adam Heller, Tom Souhadra. Photo: Monique Carboni.
After a while, watching Souhadra (who does more chameleon-like changes than Heller), dressed in a pale blue custodian’s shirt (labelled "Joe"), do his impressions loses its appeal. There’s Doyle, with his maniacal cackle; Austin, the doofus sheriff who can’t avoid poking folks with his stun gun; Mrs. Parker, the flamboyantly theatrical librarian; Floyd, the one-armed lumber yard dealer; Mrs. Stepp, the chain-smoking school teacher; Becky, the gentle bartender who keeps coyly sweeping back a strand of hair; and on and on.

Heller, who sometimes plays someone also portrayed by Souhadra, is better at straight acting than vaudeville caricatures, but he does nicely with a German called Hans, giving him the full faux-Nazi treatment, monocle and all. A few mildly off-color and scatological yocks don’t make up for a script so dependent on such broad stereotypes. I laughed more during ten minutes of The Play that Goes Wrong, another farce about putting on a play, than I did during all of Popcorn Falls.
Tom Souhadra, Adam Heller. Photo: Monique Carboni.
Borle’s lightning-fast, clever direction, which includes action in the small theatre’s aisle, does everything possible to wring laughs from the script, but it also allows for quieter moments to introduce touches of romantic sentiment. Costumes (by Joseph La Corte) and props may be minimal but Tim Mackabee has created a rather realistic set showing a wood-paneled meeting hall stage, with a curtained recess and solid, constantly used, doors. (Scenes in locales other than the hall simply ignore their surroundings.) Jeff Croiter’s volatile lighting and Jeffrey Lodin’s effective sound and music design give substance to the production but there’s not much they can do to make it funnier.
Adam Heller, Tom Souhadra, Photo: Monique Carboni.
Everyone involved has given Popcorn Falls their best effort but the show lacks enough comic butter to make it tasty enough. Orville Redenbacher, where are you?


The Davenport Theatre
354 W. 45th St., NYC
Through January 6

101 (2018-2019): Review: EMMA AND MAX (seen October 15, 2018)

"What Would Fran Drescher Have Done?"

For my review of Emma and Max please click on THEATER LIFE.

Monday, October 15, 2018

100 (2018-2019): Review: FINAL FOLLIES (seen October 14, 2018)

"Three by Gurney"

The late A.R. (“Pete”) Gurney was a prolific playwright best known for his satirical depictions of the decline of Northeast WASP society’s martini and sailboat set, as in The Dining Room and The Cocktail Hour. His plays are usually guaranteed to provide a pleasant evening of thoughtful chuckles, even when his jibes aren’t specifically poking fun at the elites of his own social class.
Colin Hanlon, Rachel Nicks. Photo: James Leynse. 

Several major Off-Broadway institutions, like Primary Stages (responsible for Final Follies and five previous Gurney productions), have found his work congenial enough to do them regularly. That’s why you see Gurney’s features on the Mount Rushmore-like lobby mural at the Pershing Square Signature Center or why one of the spaces at the Flea Theatre’s new home is called The Pete.

While most of Gurney’s over 60 theatrical works are standard length, he also composed nine short plays, or one-acts, as they’re typically called. One, “Final Follies,” completed not long before his passing last year at 86, gives its name to and gets its world premiere in this lackluster three-by-Gurney program at the Cherry Lane. David Saint has directed all three plays, with mixed results.

“Final Follies” is joined by 1965’s “The Rape of Bunny Stuntz,” one of the playwright’s earliest works, originally produced at the Cherry Lane itself, and 1969’s “The Love Course.”  On his website, Gurney claimed that the latter had received many amateur productions but never, to his knowledge, a professional one. Seeing it may tell you why. He also said he hoped it would eventually be produced with another of his one-acts, “The Open Meeting.” Primary Stages, of course, has ignored that request in favor of the other plays.

The program has its occasional pleasures, mainly because of several performances. Each play uses the same James Youmans set outlining false prosceniums in LED strip lights, with images projected on a central upstage wall, all of it well lit by Cory Pattek. I’m sorry to report, though, that neither Gurney’s ironically titled final play nor those from his salad days is particularly memorable.

For a play written so recently, “Final Follies” has a curiously naïve, even dated quality in its depiction of a handsome, well-dressed, but feckless, alcoholic young man’s desperate attempt to earn money by becoming a porn actor. The folly here lies in Primary Stage’s decision to stage this final Gurney play.

Nelson (Colin Hanlon), unable to hold any of the jobs his loving, very wealthy grandfather (Greg Mullavey) arranged for him, answers an ad for an adult film actor in the Village Voice (of beloved memory). He’s interviewed and auditioned by Tanisha (Rachel Hicks), a stunning former porn actress turned casting director and script writer. Soon, he becomes a star in the films that the company advertises for the therapeutic benefits they offer married couples (as if such a rationale was needed in today’s world of 24/7 internet access).

Nelson’s jealous, hypocritical, churchgoing brother, Walter (Mark Junek), hoping to bring his brother down, shows grandpa a DVD of Nelson in action. To Walter’s chagrin, the geezer gets a rise out his grandson’s spectacular performance.
Gregg Mullavey, Mark Junek. Photo: James Leynse.
Everything on view is childish and unconvincing, sounding more like a no-longer-with-it old dramatist’s fantasies than a knowledgeable satire on the pornography industry. Also, the play’s romantic setup and conclusion is further proof that Gurney should have quit while he was ahead.
Colin Hanlon, Rachel Nicks. Photo: James Leynse.
There’s little to rave over in the acting although Rachel Nicks does good work. She also gets to wear a formfitting blue dress that provides the most eye-catching feature of the evening. In fact, the clothes that designer David Murin has given the actresses in each play are among the show’s most visually interesting features.
Betsy Aidem, Deborah Rush. Photo: James Leynse.
The best performance of all belongs to veteran Deborah Rush in the vapid “The Rape of Bunny Stuntz.” Rush, playing the titular suburban club lady, presides over a meeting of an undefined organization but is unable to proceed when she can’t find the key to the small, metal box containing the papers she needs. Bunny keeps delaying the meeting as she tries to get the key by having the caretaker, Howie (Pitir Marek), go to her nearby home to retrieve it from her preoccupied husband.
Deborah Rush, Piter Marek. Photo: James Leynse.
Meanwhile, lurking in a red Impala in the close by parking lot is an unseen guy in a black leather jacket who has the key, forcing the obviously repressed Bunny to interact with him. She insists she has no idea who he is even though we realize the pair has some guilty connection related to a hotel room encounter.
Deborah Rush. Photo: James Leynse.
Bunny’s harried assistant, Wilma (Betsy Aidem), struggles to get the meeting back on track, but eventually leaves, while Howie gets drunk and parties with the attendees waiting in the basement for the meeting to resume. Left alone, albeit with enough of us present for her to address, Bunny’s words gradually evolve into a confession.

Rush, wearing a perfectly coiffed wig in classic 60s bouffant style, and a pretty, flowered frock, is terrific at maintaining Bunny’s forced positivity and crumbling self-confidence in the face of potential embarrassment. The play, which seems designed to expose the secret sexual longings of uptight suburban matrons, holds little interest beyond the opportunities it offers for the actress playing Bunny.

After a 15-minute intermission, the 90-minute show concludes with “The Love Course,” whose comic purpose is to explore the way in which the erotic lives of teachers are tied up with the subjects they teach. After playing the meeting participants in “The Rape of Bunny Stuntz,” the audience now figures as the imaginary class.
Betsy Aidem, Piter Marek. Photo: James Leynse.
The married Prof. Burgess (Marek) and the single Prof. Carroway (Aidem) have a popular team-teaching partnership in their course on the literature of romantic love. However, Carroway has been denied tenure and will be leaving for a position at Mt. Holyoke, while Burgess has been removed from the classroom to serve as an administrator. This is their last class, and the romantic tensions between them, which also involve Burgess’s jealous wife (unseen), bubble to the surface.
Rachel Nicks, Betsy Aidem, Piter Marek. Photo: James Leynse.
Also involved are two representative students, Mike (Hanlon, much better here than in “Final Follies”) and his girlfriend Sally (Nicks), sitting in the first row. Mike, an electrical engineering student with no interest in the subject, is there only because Sally is crazy about the course and its teachers. Their relationship, naturally, is tied to the content of the course.
Colin Hanlon, Piter Marek. Photo: James Leynse.
The emotionally volatile Carroway is dressed in another Murin highlight, a showily colorful silk robe, although it does tend to make her look more like Mme. Arcati in Blithe Spirit, an image Aidem’s amusingly eccentric performance does little to dispel. The more professorially garbed Burgess, with his mop of unruly silver hair, also behaves so broadly that we understand at once why the pair is known for their flamboyant theatricality.

As they work out their conflicts through readings from Wuthering Heights and Antony and Cleopatra, their excessive antics push the work so far into farcical territory that the work quickly loses touch with reality and runs out of comic gas.

Final Follies does nothing to further polish A.R. Gurney’s reputation. Here’s hoping the next Primary Stages staging of the playwright’s work will bring back the shine.


Cherry Lane Theatre
38 Commerce St., NYC
Through October 21

Sunday, October 14, 2018

99 (2018-2019): Review: WHAT THE CONSTITUTION MEANS TO ME (seen October 13, 2018)

“Crucible or Patchwork Quilt?”

There are often times when the American public shows intense interest in the United States Constitution. Usually, this is when a new amendment is being contemplated, a particular issue is before the Supreme Court, or a new appointment to SCOTUS is under consideration. The latter condition, of course, is largely responsible for the present moment being so darned hot.
Heidi Schreck. Photo: Joan Marcus.
Cable news programs have been doing their best to keep political junkies tuned to the wonky subject of constitutional interpretation. A small number of recent films and plays have looked at the
Constitution through the eyes of particular individuals. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, for example, is the focus of the popular docudrama RBG, while Justice Scalia is the basis for the Off-Broadway biodrama The Originalist. In the unusually compelling What the Constitution Means to Me (WTC), playwright-actress Heidi Schreck takes on the broader field of the Constitution itself, with particular reference to the fourteenth amendment and, in her dramatic context, its relation to the ninth. 
Heidi Schreck, Mike Iveson. Photo: Joan Marcus.

Schreck, whose Grand Concourse provided food for thought at Playwrights Horizons a few years ago, is a really smart cookie who, at 15, began earning college scholarship money while competing, and usually winning, American Legion debate contests focused on the Constitution. Over the past decade she’s been developing WTC, under various auspices, the version we see today having been created for 2017’s Clubbed Thumb’s Summerworks Festival, with director Oliver Butler at the helm. Its West Coast premiere was earlier this year at the Berkeley Rep, and it’s currently at the New York Theatre Workshop. 

Heidi Schreck. Photo: Joan Marcus.
WTC’s premise is that Schreck, playing herself, is here to recreate one of her teenage debates from 1989, which took place at an American Legion post in her hometown of Wenatchee, WA, “The Apple Capital of the World.” Rachel Hauck’s design, lit by Jen Schriever, is a wide expanse representing the paneled walls of a Legion post, lined with dozens of photos of white men in military caps and backed by standing United States and American Legion flags. To further heighten the atmosphere, we’re asked to pretend we’re an audience of cigar-smoking white men. 
Mike Iveson. Photo: Joan Marcus.
Schreck remarks that her reconstruction has to rely on her memory of her 1989 speech because her mom discarded it (although she saved such detritus as 12-year-old Heidi’s hair when she cut it off to look like Annie Lennox). She then sets up the situation, for which a Legionnaire (Mike Iveson), in familiar cap and jacket, serves as moderator, setting up the ground rules, announcing the topics, holding up cards noting the time remaining in each segment, and ringing a bell to cut off speech.

In part one, the contestants must explain their understanding of the Constitution and how it relates to their lives; in part two, they must extemporize on an amendment they draw at random from a can. Schreck reverts to her 15-year-old self, delivering her speech about the Constitution being a “crucible”; her opponent’s theme, which Heidi disputes, is that the Constitution is a patchwork quilt. The amendment Schreck picks is the Fourteenth, Section One. Briefly, this concerns the equal protection of all citizens under the laws.

As the hour and 40-minute program proceeds, Heidi slips back and forth between her youthful self and her present one, the latter gradually becoming dominant as, driven by the constitutional question before her, she presents what is essentially a memoir of the spousal abuse suffered by her female antecedents, including what she witnessed in the lives of her mother and grandmother. Much of her time is occupied with arguments concerning violence toward women, women’s rights, and abortion. Occasionally, the narrative appears to drift off on tangents, which she herself notes, but nothing she says isn’t without relevance to her arguments.

While we never meet young Heidi’s opponent, Becky Lee Dobbins, from Lawrence, KS, the play’s loose structure allows us to hear from actor Mike Iveson, who temporarily sheds his Legionnaire persona to provide what Schreck calls “positive male energy” in the form of his personal story about his sexuality. Interesting as it is, it’s hard not to consider it an unnecessary distraction.
Rosdely Ciprian, Heidi Schreck. Photo: Joan Marcus.
Toward the end, an even more surprising metatheatrical twist arrives in the person of a 14-year-old, African-American schoolgirl named Rosdely Ciprian, who enters to debate Schreck on the question of whether or not the Constitution should be abolished, each debater taking the opposite position. Meanwhile, pocket-sized copies of the Constitution are distributed to the audience, which is asked to hoot, holler, and howl for or against contestants’ points (not unlike a Real Time with Bill Maher show). At the conclusion, an audience member is chosen to decide the debate winner.
Rosdely Ciprian. Photo: Joan Marcus.
While much of this debate is scripted, it also contains room for extemporaneous discussion. Regardless, Ciprian is an extraordinarily intelligent, remarkably knowledgeable kid (adorably, an audience question the night I went stumped her with the term “bucket list”), who one day might reasonably join SCOTUS itself. If a movie of Michelle Obama’s childhood were made, I couldn’t think of better casting. (Thursday Williams alternates with Ciprian and, I'm sure, is equally as gifted.) 

Rosdely Ciprian, Heidi Schreck, Mike Iveson.
Schreck herself delivers an awesome performance, filled with anger, vulnerability, astuteness, and pain, but also with welcome dollops of humor, often self-deprecating. She’s as potent an actress as she is a writer.

What the Constitution Means to Me is absorbing, and, given its driving pace, there’s certainly a lot to absorb. It’s an educational, if decidedly polemical, event that makes its lessons that much more pertinent by their connection to Schreck’s personal experiences. When it’s over, however, you may consider turning your attention to what the Constitution means to you.


New York Theatre Workshop
79 E. 4th St., NYC
Through October 28