The summer air is beginning to heat up in Brookhaven, a rural town in Mississippi, as residents prepare with excitement for their annual Miss Firecracker Contest, a beauty and talent pageant held every summer on the Fourth of July. Carnelle Scott, a hopeful victor in this year’s competition, is as feverish as the humid temperatures outside as she readies herself for what she anticipates will be a spectacular event of personal reinvention. Carnelle, moving past a turbulent childhood and subsequently desperate adolescence that somewhat marred her public reputation, is determined to show her hometown that she is the elegant beauty she so desperately wants to be in their eyes. Assisting her in this venture is Popeye Jackson, an extremely odd and blissfully naive half-blind seamstress, who is new in town and worships Carnelle’s exuberance and relentless optimism. Soon to arrive on the scene are Delmount Williams and Elain Rutledge, Carnelle’s first cousins, raised alongside her by the aunt who took Carnelle in as an older child. Ronelle, who died of cancer six months previously, is less fondly remembered by her children than she is by the niece who still resides in her home. As Delmount begins to dismantle his late mother’s house and life, he and Elain are forced to unpack their own individual baggage toward each other and their family life together. When, against all odds, Carnelle makes it to the contest finals, emotions between all explode and her journey to possible local stardom is marred by mishaps right and left. This boisterous and bold dark comedy, a true Beth Henley play, explores human nature through the slightly larger-than-life, and finds earnest humor and satire in many of the same places. Both charming and irreverent, The Miss Firecracker Contest is a wistful take on Southern beauty culture and the real-life facades it so eloquently symbolizes.
The Miss Firecracker Contest guide sections