THEATRE REVIEW: THE MISS FIRECRACKER CONTEST
By Jain Lemos
Janine O’Neill leaves everything she’s got on the stage—including her bloomers—in The Adobe Theater’s production of “The Miss Firecracker Contest” directed by Philip J. Shortell. Playing Carnelle Scott, a twenty-something Ole Miss desperate for just one positive achievement in her so far glum life, O’Neill excels in her determination to bring a little Down South attitude to the Southwest.
Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Beth Henley prepared this casserole of sympathy and snickers in 1979. Though not widespread on stage, ten years later Holly Hunter starred as Carnelle in a screen adaptation directed by Thomas Schlamme (treasured in New Mexico as the executive producer of “Manhattan”). Henley’s characters in “Firecracker” are mostly prized for their peculiarities stemming from unfortunate circumstances and choices. Through two acts, the audience is treated to her exploration of a measure of misfits.
Shortell stages the opening splendidly as O’Neill stomps through a practice run of Carnelle’s routine for the July Fourth beauty contest. Her act is so bad it’s great and O’Neill never gives up on Carnelle’s determination to be talented and beautiful even though she knows it’s not true. Sandra Williams reaches a believable note delivered with a simple flair in her portrayal of Popeye Jackson, a wistful young seamstress enamored with Carnelle’s attention-grabbing family.
The show’s best strength is Sheridan K. Johnson as Carnelle’s elegantly tipsy cousin, Elain Rutledge. Johnson travels through the sets as though she is still wearing the crown from her previous reign as the town’s Miss Firecracker. This part gives Johnson a chance to showcase her range and she nails a plethora of temperaments: bossy cousin, overbearing sibling, phony patron, egocentric ingénue and self-doubting drunk.
Micah Linford as Delmount Williams, Elain’s oddly pompous brother, has good moments and flourishes in the second act when he settles into the role more spontaneously. Paul Hunton as Mac Sam, an old flame of Carnelle’s, expresses perfect instincts. Working as a carny during the contest festivities, he uses a bundle of balloons to represent the fragility of their worlds. Pulling in amusing levity is Kristina Caffrey as the dominantly homely Tessy Mahoney.
The plot is past its expiration date and everyone takes a turn lying prostrate—for one incredible reason or another. This illustration drives home Shortell’s interpretation of Henley’s message that rising up out of despair takes acceptance of your lot in life, but mainly because it’s cold and lonely crying by yourself on the floor. The humor helps and the cast works extremely well together.
“The Miss Firecracker Contest” is running at The Adobe through Sunday, November 22, 2015. For reservations please call 505.898.9222 or purchase tickets online at www.adobetheater.org.
Photos courtesy of Adobe Theater Facebook