Arts and Culture Editor
Beth Henley’s The Miss Firecracker Contest, which plays at The Rafters Theatre in Dutcher Hall from February 22 through March 3, tells the story of a girl in the small Mississippi town of Brookhaven named Carnelle Scott. Carnelle is trying to get into the Miss Firecracker Contest as she hopes it will help her reputation before leaving her small town roots. Hijinks ensue when she runs into some colorful characters from her past.
The characters in Henley’s world are very over the top, which brings out the comedy in the piece. Olivia Moyer plays Carnelle’s cousin, Elaine Rutledge. Moyer says that although “Elaine is very much a drama queen,” there are moments where “Elaine is kind of humbled and gets some humility.”The actress tries to humanize the character and make her more relatable by appealing to the fact that “Everyone can be full of themselves.” She also tries to show the audience the reasons why the character may be self-absorbed. Humanizing these comedic characters grounds the play and keeps it from being a complete farce.
This play does happen to take place in the 1980s and in the deep south, and the setting and time of this piece has certainly informed the actors and creative team throughout the rehearsal process. Jake Gould, who plays Carnelle’s ex-lover, Mac Sam says that “The accent has really helped and has been a very easy way to say this is Jake, and this is Mac Sam”.
According to Molly Dorsey, who plays Tessy Mahoney, “Being able to master a dialect made me feel like I could be the character more and be somebody else that I wasn’t”. Mahoney also speaks to how in practicing the accent she has to keep in mind, “How southern people have different r’s…. and lots of the words you say you have to take a step back and change them.” Bryce Wall, who plays Popeye Jackson, doesn’t have to speak much in a southern dialect, but the voice she develops for the character, “Is more nasally than the others”. The character isn’t well educated and doesn’t always make the best decisions, yet even the smallest details like tone of voice can do so much in developing the characters.
Even with all the crazy characters and voices, the story is ultimately at the heart of this production. The show’s director, Terri Mastrobuono constantly “Tries to keep the motivations real.” From the beginning of the creative process, she encouraged the cast to “Find the love”within the characters. Dorsey also says that, “This play kind of illustrates how even with disappointment and difficulty, in the end there is beauty… beauty in your life and beauty in the world.” While the characters are over the top and the play is very witty and enjoyable, it is the relatability and heart that make this production one worth seeing and a definite highlight for the MU theatre season.