The Miss Firecracker Contest
By Beth Henley
Directed by Eric Zivot
Staring Kami Spaulding
Annie Russell Theatre, Winter Park FL
Once you’ve lost your reputation, winning it back is nearly impossible, especially in a small town. Not only does everyone know everyone else’s business, it’s the only entertainment beyond television. Carnelle’s (Spaulding) reputation is so low she actually gave a carnie and STD and the local boys call her “Miss Hot Tamale” but she hopes winning the local beauty pageant might give her a leg up and out. She’s got a whiz bang routine in mind and poverty stricken Popeye (Caisey Cole) agrees to sew her costume. Carnelle is soon joined by her stepbrother Delmount (Ryan Lambert) and stepsister Elain (Caroline Cronin): Delmont is just out of the state hospital and Elain leveraged a community college degree for an abusive but successful husband but now reconsiders. Delmount is here to sell off the house and kick everyone into the cold cruel world, but he agrees to stick around till Carnelle does her Roman candle and star spangled dress routine. She’s not bound for glory, but at least she’s passed through the valley of fiery genitalia, and Yazoo City better watch out because she’s coming in hot.
The Annie is 80 years old and just though a major revamp, and Lisa Cody Rapport’s elaborate set blends in perfectly to the faded southern charm of the place. Carnelle is a spandex and leg warmer poster girl for the 80s, her dance routine is just hokey enough to win a small town talent contest if it wasn’t judged by social standing instead of talent. Cole’s Popeye seems surprised when Carnelle addresses her, she only comes alive when she sits on Delmount’s lap and flashes us her best bedroom eyes. Elain is the most constant character, while you won’t like her personally she exemplifies a southern belle perched on an ambiguous high moral ground: she’ll never be hungry again even if that requires a slap or ten. Taylor Sorrel’s carney Mac Sam seem supernaturally removed from what’s on stage, he’s coughing up blood and it hurts when he pees but he accepts his fate. Lambert’s Delmont is the big issue – written as a marginally sane sexual predator, he goes for a broad comedic take on the role. His mugging at the audience got some partisan applause, but overall he shifts this show from a biting essay on a woman’s role in small town America to a goofy parody. Mr. Lambert has the look and physicality to do excellent comedy, but that’s not what this role demands. There’s a good story and plenty of spectacle lurking in this beauty pageant, but some of the contestant drop their batons.
For more information on the Annie Russell Theatre at Rollins College, please visit http://www.rollins.edu/annierussell/current_season/index.html