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THEATER REVIEW: “The Miss Firecracker Contest”

Carnelle Scott (Samantha Ginn) has a plan.

We find her at home, practicing her star-spangled baton routine – and her imperial wave. She intends to win the annual Miss Firecracker contest, held every Fourth of July in Brookhaven, Mississippi.

You have to admire the determination and drive of this tall, skinny, slightly gawky redhead (recently dyed) trying to rehabilitate her high school reputation as “Miss Hot Tamale.” And you have to feel for her as she repeatedly checks upper arms and thighs for signs of flab.

At 24, this is her last chance at the competition, and she’s going about the business of winning methodically. She’s hired seamstress Popeye (Melissa Coleman-Reed) and bought fabric for the sparkly red, silver and blue costume she’s designed. But she’s so antsy about the event that she keeps practicing poses while Popeye tries to measure her.

If you admire Carnelle, you’ve gotta love Ginn, whose full-bore characterization makes no apologies and takes no prisoners. She goes for it bigtime, and she’s (pardon the expression) awesome.

Kudos to Director Daren Scott, who sets up the situation and gets out of the way, and to Ginn’s supporting cast, who are obviously having a wonderful time along with her: cousins Delmount (Justin Lang), whose own checkered past includes a jail stretch) and the elegant Elain (Kristin Woodburn), a Miss Firecracker herself at age 17, who now considers the name “trashy.”

Also along for the ride are contest coordinator Tessy Mahoney (Lauren King), who has some history with Delmount, and Mac Sam (Eddie Yaroch), whose previous encounters with Carnelle have left him with, shall we say, a souvenir. Coleman-Reed’s Popeye adds a note of wide-eyed incredulity and support for Carnelle’s ambition.

Playwright Beth Henley, who grew up in Mississippi, knows these characters well and portrays them with such humor and affection that it’s difficult not to smile and even engage with the craziness.

Fine support comes from Kacia Castelli’s ’80s costumes, Kristianne Kurner’s spare and versatile set, Robert May’s sound design and Chris Renda’s lighting.

New Village Arts Theatre presents Henley’s “The Miss Firecracker Contest” through June 29, and you don’t want to miss this one.

The details

“The Miss Firecracker Contest” plays through June 29 at New Village Arts Theatre, 2787 State St., Carlsbad.

Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm; matinees Saturday at 3 pm and Sunday at 2 pm.

Tickets: (760) 433-3245 or HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.