Bringing a spark

Firecracker 2When the curtain rises for “The Miss Firecracker Contest,” 24-year old Carnelle Scott is working tirelessly on a dance routine to “The Star Spangled Banner.”  She twirls around her living room until she attempts a full split.  The audience gasps as Scott goes down and falls over before touching the floor, but she pops back up and keeps going.

The resiliency of her character, as charmingly portrayed by Glynnis O’Donoghue, keeps the audience laughing with, not at, Scott in her quest to win the Miss Firecracker beauty pageant.

Theatre Charlotte will run “The Miss Firecracker Contest” through Sunday, Feb. 9, with 8 p.m. performances Friday and Saturday and a 2:30 p.m. Sunday matinee.  Some performances are already sold out.  More information and tickets are available at www.theatrecharlotte.org.

“The Miss Firecracker Contest” was written by Southern playwright Beth Henley, best known for her Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, “Crimes of the Heart.”  Henley’s plays are sometimes sad and simultaneously hilarious.  The hallmark of these dark comedies is a cast of quirky characters who navigate family dysfunction in small Southern towns.

“In a community where everyone knows everything, tabs are being kept,” O’Donoghue said of the play’s Brookhaven, Miss., setting.  “Everyone’s issues and the skeletons in their closet get discussed over iced tea.”

Scott’s cousin and former pageant winner, Elain, is personally miserable despite having a pretty face, rich husband, two children and the adoration of the entire town. She leaves her family and comes home to Brookhaven to determine her next steps.

Alas, Elain’s beauty is skin-deep; the Miss Firecracker crown did not make her happy.

As July 4 approaches, Scott gets help sewing her costume from a bug-eyed seamstress named Popeye, who makes costumes for bullfrogs.  Upon close inspection of a photograph, Popeye immediately falls in love with Scott’s cousin Delmount, whose recent job was road kill clean-up.  Delmount settles the estate of his deceased mother, who grew long black hair after a receiving a transplanted pituitary gland from a monkey.

“Carnelle is the town tramp,” O’Donoghue explained.  “She is the subject of ridicule and is outcast in her community.”

Abandoned by her parents and raised by her aunt, Scott sought approval in bad adult relationships.  When her aunt died, Scott experienced an awakening, and started to attend church and volunteer.  Regardless of her best effort, she has had difficulty rising above her “checkered past,” the lifestyle that earned her the reputation of “Miss Hot Tamale.”

Scott hopes to change her image by winning the pageant and leaving town in a “blaze of glory.”  Though she becomes one of the five finalists, the cards are stacked against
her.

“In the second act, the contest does not go too well,” O’Donoghue explained.  Starting with a costume mishap and a missing seamstress, “she runs into every wall she could.”

As an aspiring actress, O’Donoghue can relate.  She has shed many a tear over roles she auditioned for but never got.  She has learned to lean on the strength of good friends like Amy Wada, who plays Popeye.  O’Donoghue’s first leading role in “The Miss Firecracker Contest” shows good things come to those who keep auditioning.

A graduate of Davidson College Theater, O’Donoghue has performed in Charlotte for several years but is new to the Theatre Charlotte stage.  She has blossomed under the tutelage of Tonya Bludsworth, who directed “The Miss Firecracker Contest.”

Bludsworth’s director notes for “The Miss Firecracker Contest,” read, “The message I believe we walk away with in the end is learning to accept who we really are – with all our foibles, fears and
quirks.”

In the end, Scott finds the confidence she has sought in an unlikely place.  Though she has no boyfriend, she is not alone.  She trades a masquerade mask for a fluffy stuffed dog.  Her blaze of glory turns out to be a firework display, watched with family and friends.

When “The Miss Firecracker Contest” concludes, everyone can agree with Scott’s ex-boyfriend Mac Sam: “I like a woman who can take it on the chin.”

 

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