When even the Miss America Pageant is taking a long, hard look at itself (and eliminating its trademark swimsuit competition) in this #MeToo moment, you might be surprised to learn that Northville’s Tipping Point Theatre recently opened its twelfth season with a production of Beth Henley’s “The Miss Firecracker Contest” (1980).
After all, the Southern fried comedy focuses on Carnelle (Kryssy Becker), a reformed, churchgoing, good-deed-doing young woman who previously had been known around her Mississippi hometown as “Miss Hot Tamale.” Carnelle’s decided that if she can win the town’s annual beauty pageant, she might finally be able to put her bad reputation behind her, and maybe even leave town in a “blaze of glory.”
Director Dani Cochrane confesses in her program note that she, too, was initially wary of the play’s messages, but that over time, she and her cast came to appreciate “Miss Firecracker”’s characters and their “desperate need for love and acceptance.”
For in addition to Carnelle, there’s her beautiful older cousin Elain (Hallie Bee Bard) – a former Miss Firecracker herself – who’s run away from her wealthy husband and children; her brother Delmount (Patrick Loos), a mercurial, vain, self-styled poet and lothario who has a score to settle with Elain; Popeye (Maggie Meyer), an eccentric but good-hearted new seamstress in town who’s commissioned to make Carnelle’s pageant costumes; Mac Sam (Aaron Kirby), a self-destructive carnie and former beau of Carnelle’s; and Tessy (Shauna Hitchcock), an assertive stage manager for the pageant who once shared an evening with Delmount that he’d prefer to forget.
Like Cochrane, I approached “Miss Firecracker” with reservations (and I don’t mean our tickets). Having watched a previous production years ago, I didn’t count myself as a big fan of what had felt like a dated script. However, I’m usually pretty open to giving shows another go, especially when there are artists whose work I respect involved – and that’s definitely the case at Tipping Point.
So was the talent involved enough to win me over? Keep reading. Continue reading