A delusional southern beauty surrounded by misfits and mental cases tries to build a road to redemption out of a small-town pageant in ways that are funny but not soul-destroying in "The Miss Firecracker Contest," a Southern Gothic play by Pulitzer Prize-winner Beth Henley, coming Nov. 14 to Fort Hays State University's Felten-Start Theatre.
Performances are at 7:30 p.m. from Nov. 14 to Nov. 16. A matinee is at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 17. Felten-Start is in Malloy Hall on the FHSU campus.
Set in Brookhaven, Miss., the play tells the story of Carnelle Scott, played by Brenna Cole, and her attempt to overcome her reputation as "Miss Hot Tamale" by winning the titular beauty pageant despite her lack of self-confidence and the fact that she dyed her hair an impossible shade of red.
The play also revolves around Elain Rutledge, Carnelle's unhappy, narcissistic bombshell cousin, played by Jill Herbert, and Delmount Williams, Elain's psychotic brother, played by Timothy Tarkelly. Popeye Jackson, the impressionable and unpredictable seamstress played by Sarah Werling, junior, rounds out the main cast.
The first act takes place in Carnelle's late Aunt Ronelle's house, where she lives and is currently practicing her skit for the talent segment and recalling her past promiscuity and shameful reputation. Popeye arrives to take her measurements for the finals Carnelle doesn't even know if she qualified for. Popeye earned her nickname when she accidentally applied ear drops to her eyes, causing them to swell. While taking measurements, she sees a picture of Delmount and instantly falls in love.
With the two of them is Elain. A previous winner of the Miss Firecracker Contest, she is cynical about Carnelle's chances of winning. She is also struggling with her decision to leave the husband she married only for money.
Popeye then meets Delmount for the first time when he arrives home. Delmount, with a habit of dreaming about deformed female body parts and recently returned from a stay at a mental asylum, ignores Popeye and announces that he is selling Aunt Ronelle's house and splitting the profits with Carnelle, encouraging her further with the prospect of "leaving in a blaze of glory" after winning. The act ends in a phone call from the pageant, telling her she is a finalist.
Completing the second act cast is Mac Sam, a sickly former fling of Carnelle's played by Gabriel Bristow, and Tessy Mahoney, an unattractive stage manager whose identical twin is a pageant contestant played by Jera Gale.
The play's resolution involves a frog suit, confessions of love, syphilis and fireworks. The play's co-assistant directors and stage managers are Courtney Campbell, and Tyler Wayman. The director is Tomme Williams, instructor of music and theatre.
"Even in the beginning stages," said Jill Herbert, the play's Elain Rutledge, "I could tell this was going to be a wonderful show filled with wonderful people both on the stage and behind the scenes."
The play, originally produced in 1980 in Los Angeles, was made into the movie "Miss Firecracker" with an adaptive script by Henley and starring Holly Hunter and Tim Robbins.
Tickets are $15 for the public and $10 for senior citizens and FHSU students with a valid ID. For more information or ticket reservations, call the Department of Music and Theatre at 785-628-4533 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
The Miss Firecracker cast, listed by hometown. The ZIP code is included for the convenience of newspapers that use them to determine placement:
Andale (67001): Brenna Cole, junior (playing Carnelle), is a 2011 graduate of Andale High School. She is the daughter of Bob and Kim Cole.
Chanute (66720): Timothy Tarkelly, senior (Delmount), is the son of Lori Sevedge.
Coldwater (67029): Jera Gales, sophomore (Tessy), is a 2012 graduate of South Central High School. She is the daughter of Tony and Lisa Gales.
Golden, Colo. (80401): Gabriel Bristow, senior (Mac Sam), is a 2010 graduate of O'Evelyn High School in Lakewood, Colorado. He is the son of Dr. David Bristow.
Hoisington (67544): Courtney Campbell, freshman (Stage Manager), is a 2013 graduate of Great Bend High School in Great Bend, Kansas. She is the daughter of Robert Campbell of Hoisington, Kansas and Audrey Johnson of Liberal, Kansas.
McLouth (66054): Tyler Wayman, sophomore (Stage Manager), is a 2012 graduate of McLouth High School. He is the son of Rebecca Lynn Hoffsett.
Solomon (67480): Sarah Werling, junior (Popeye), is a 2011 graduate of Solomon High School. She is the daughter of John and Ericka Werling.
Wichita (67212): Jill Herbert, sophomore (Elain), is a 2012 graduate of Northwest High. She is the daughter of Mark Herbert of Wichita and Betty Herbert of Wichita.