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Entertainment & Arts

‘What the Constitution Means to Me’ national tour reveals who will play Heidi Schreck

Maria Dizzia will star in Heidi Schreck’s “What the Constitution Means to Me”
Maria Dizzia will play her longtime friend Heidi Schreck in “What the Constitution Means to Me.”
(Tess Mayer)

When Heidi Schreck’s hit Broadway play “What the Constitution Means to Me” launches its national tour in Los Angeles next year, it will star Maria Dizzia.

The Tony Award nominee will lead the nearly one-woman show in the first two stops: Los Angeles’ Mark Taper Forum (Jan. 12 through Feb. 16) and Chicago’s Broadway Playhouse (March 4 through April 12).

The play, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, launches its national tour after two sold-out off-Broadway runs and a twice-extended tenure on Broadway. Additional cities and casting for the remainder of the tour will be announced later.

Schreck and Dizzia have been friends for years; in fact, when Schreck was first rehearsing “Constitution” at New York Theatre Workshop, she called on Dizzia to help fine-tune her performance — tips that later led to Schreck’s Tony nomination in the lead actress category.

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“I needed a remarkable, compelling actress with a mix of vulnerability and strength, and I find [Dizzia] riveting to watch onstage,” Schreck told The Times. “She knows the play because she’s seen every iteration of it and she’s coached me through it as an actress. But I also admire her as an artist and a human being. I deeply trust her, and I trust the play in her hands.”

Dizzia called her upcoming gig an ambitious undertaking.

“I have a lot of work ahead of me, but I’m really excited about it,” she said. “Even when I first saw it at Clubbed Thumb, I was bowled over by Heidi’s artistry, as a writer and actor. For me, the challenge of bringing that emotional honesty every night feels like an opportunity for me to grow as an actor. I feel so lucky.”

What the Conststution Means to Me
Heidi Schreck played both her younger and current self in the acclaimed play.
(Joan Marcus)

In the unconventional play, Schreck recalled how she earned money for college by giving speeches on the Constitution in debate competitions. She told the audience that she would play her “psychotically polite” teenage self and attempt to re-create that speech from memory. Later on in the show, Schreck became her present-day self and confronted how the Constitution does not inherently aim to protect women at any age.

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To maintain the memoir-like framing of the piece — a key component of its acclaim from critics and audiences alike — Dizzia will play Heidi Schreck first as an optimistic 15-year-old and then as a disillusioned 47-year-old. Dizzia also will find a moment to pause the play, address the audience directly as herself, and share her own powerful story related to constitutional rights.

“I think there’s a great opportunity here in that someone can, at some point in the show, say, ‘I have my own experience with this as well,’” director Oliver Butler told The Times in June. “I hope it’s an additional layer of meta-theater in a piece about becoming one’s true self. If it’s true that other people doing the role is both moving for that person and other people seeing it, and that it doesn’t hinge solely on Schreck telling her story herself, that’s just great added value for the play.”

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Dizzia — a Tony nominee for her featured performance in the 2009 play “In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play)” and an actress whose credits include “Orange Is the New Black,” “13 Reasons Why” and “Emergence” — is working with Schreck to create that unique monologue, one that allows the actress to share a truth with the audience and transition back into the role of Heidi.

“One of the thrilling things about the play is that any woman playing this part in the future is going to have stories about how their lives have been shaped and circumscribed by this document,” Schreck said. “We have a couple workshops where we’re gonna explore that, where I just spend time listening to what she wants to share with me, and finding what is the story that’s gonna feel most powerful in this piece, what will allow Maria to become Maria.”

Dizzia will be joined for the Los Angeles and Chicago engagements by original Broadway cast members Mike Iveson and Rosdely Ciprian. A casting director has begun the monthlong process of finding a local debater who identifies as a young person of color. Dizzia goes head-to-head with one of the teens in the play’s third-act debate about whether the country should keep the Constitution or replace it.

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Rosdely Ciprian, one of the seasoned debaters of the Broadway play, will reprise her role on the road.
(Joan Marcus)

This is the part of the play that intimidates Dizzia most. Although she has some debate experience — she was on her high school’s debate team and Model United Nations team — she admitted that she struggled with it at the time.

“It was a nut I really didn’t crack because I was a very emotional debater,” she told The Times. “I went to an all-girls school, and when I was debating someone from an all-boys school about abortion, I was so overwhelmed that I started crying. Our teacher had to remove me from the debate and replace me with someone else, and gave me a look as if to say, ‘This is not how hearts and minds are won.’

“One of the things I love about the play is how it speaks to an audience who may not be on their side, and how it lays out the experience of women in a way that allows people to understand an experience they may not have had themselves. That’s something I’ve always struggled with as a person and that’s one of the things I’m excited to learn through this play.”

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The actors need to keep up with political developments for the debate’s cross-section — a demand that was quite taxing for Schreck.

“Sometimes if I spent too much time on the news, particularly when all the abortion laws were happening with Georgia and Ohio, I would actually arrive at the theater so angry that I found it difficult to do the first part of the play, to be that 15-year-old who is full of hope,” she said. “But I felt like it was important to always know what’s going on because the audience is carrying that in with them.”

Schreck is still open to performing “Constitution” for small-town audiences later in the tour, but she is using her downtime from the stage primarily to resume writing projects, including an adaptation of Patricia Lockwood’s book “Priestdaddy” for Amazon.

And after performing “Constitution” for two years, she’s finally going on vacation: to Italy for a few weeks with her husband.


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