Thought-provoking play debates the U.S. Constitution

"The Constitution is a living document. That is what is so beautiful about it. It is a living, warm-blooded, steamy document."

So begins the teenage Heidi Schreck's speech at the Wanatchee, Washington, American Legion Hall on what the Constitution means to her, as reenacted by the adult Heidi Schreck, the writer and lead actor of the play What the Constitution Means to Me, now playing at the New York Theatre Workshop in the East Village.

Schreck paid her way through college with money she earned debating in Legion halls around the country. But through her play, the grown-up Schreck's keeps butting into her idealistic speech with information that her all-male judges at the time would not have appreciated.

For example, Schreck complicates her celebration of the 1965 case of Griswold v. Connecticut, which struck down state contraception bans by establishing a newfound "right to privacy," by calling into question to motivations of Justice William O. Douglas, who wrote the lead opinion, and other justices on a court that would not have its first woman on the bench for another 16 years.

"I actually found out while researching this that William O. Douglas, who was 67 years old, was actually having an affair with a 22-year-old college student, and it turns out that three other judges were having sex with young women as well," Schreck tells the audience during her 90-minute play. "So I'm guessing they really wanted to find a way to get the birth control flowing."

The laughs that line and many others receive throughout the performance balance the tears that come from Schreck's recounting the constitution's broken promise of equal protection of the laws for the women in her family who endured domestic violence and rape going back four generations.

"I learned a great deal more when I started looking into the constitution as it relates to domestic violence laws, to abortion, to reproduction, to women's rights in the workplace," Schreck told Fox 5 News. "In trying to connect that to my family, I learned a lot about the women in my family. And some of it was heartbreaking."

Schreck presents from that heartbreak a sense of lost faith in the document she extolled as a high school debater, leading to a new debate to close the show: whether to keep or abolish the Constitution.

Schreck argues for abolition so to start anew with a charter created by more representative drafters securing, among other things, the rights to education and healthcare.

Opposing her proposition are New York City high school girls Thursday Williams, 17, and Rosdely Ciprian, 14, who alternate shows with their arguments to keep the Constitution. Their key point: better to perfect the current Constitution's protections than risk deeper injustice in a failed attempt to reconstruct something new.

What the Constitution Means to Me, also starring Mike Iveson, runs through November 4.