A satire of the Southern potboiler in the form of a beauty pageant, The Miss Firecracker Contest was first performed at a tiny LA theatre in 1980. Later moving to an off Broadway production directed by ubiquitous character actor and storyteller Stephen Tobolowsky. Tobolowsky’s childhood experiences served as the inspiration for this story of narcissism and loathing at the Mississippi Rose of Tralee. The part of rakish Brontesque lead Delmount was written with him in mind. Miss Firecracker Contest was later adapted into a film starring Holly Hunter. Beth Henley’s script has been praised for it’s ‘quirky characters’ and ‘strong messages’, but is this a profound comedic examination of the lives of Southern women? Or merely a message in a bottle – a didactic wafer thin work, constrained by form and inhabited by shadows?
The play centres around one aspiring firecracker Carnelle Scot, raised by her cousins – the glamorous Elain Routledge and the roguish sex offender Delmount Williams. Carnelle’s efforts to win the contest are aided by her goggle-eyed, underclass seamstress Popeye Jackson, and deterred by her reputation as a floozy. Despite having cleaned up her act and treated her syphilis, Carnelle is haunted by the neglect and abandonment of her parents and her years as the town’s good time. Meanwhile Carnelle’s lush cousin Elain has left her wealthy husband, and her hated brother Delmount has returned from his imprisonment in a mental asylum – where he was committed due to his penchant for broken bottle fights, devirginations and attempted strangulations – to sell the family mansion.
‘Reading Plays‘ is a discussion show, featuring Gareth Stack and James Van De Waal. Each week we do a close reading of a modern play, discussing it’s merits, themes, issues raised, and so on. You can play along by reading or watching a production of the play before you listen to the show.