By Pat Launer
Beth Henley really knows her Southerners.
The Mississippi-born playwright has a deliciously quirky sense of humor and an especially sympathetic bead on the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum. A lot of her characters are lost or losers, in her Pulitzer Prize-winning “Crimes of the Heart,” her best-known work, and in 1984’s “Miss Firecracker Contest,” which is comical, but not as layered or smart. Still, it’s getting a crackerjack production at New Village Arts.
Daren Scott directs with a light hand and a strong sense of histrionics and humor, without taking the wacky shenanigans too far over the top. The loopiness of these characters speaks for itself.
The ensemble is outstanding, each actor burnishing a down-home eccentric into a polished little gem, whether it’s the tiny role of Mac Sam, in which a long-haired, bearded Eddie Yaroch is the funniest he’s ever been; or the equally indelible portrayal of Lauren King as Tessy Mahoney, the disappointed local who can’t get past one night of accidental bliss with the town’s Bad Boy (hilarious and wacko Justin Lang). Then there’s the snooty rich, miserable sister of the central family, who married up, as her late, not-so-nice Mommy instructed. And we can’t forget the visually-impaired seamstress, Popeye (a very solid, spyglass-wielding Melissa Coleman-Reed).
They’re all baffled moths around the flame of Samantha Ginn as Carnelle, who wants to split from small-town Brookhaven, MS, that’s dubbed her (because of her “chechered past”) Miss Hot Tamale. She’s now on the cusp of the max cutoff age, but she just wants one chance to be “Miss Firecracker,” in the annual 4th of July extravaganza.
She practices incessantly, in front of all and sundry, with her tap boots and baton. She poses in front of the mirror, feeling for flab in her arms, legs, butt and belly. Like all the rest of this motley assortment of disaffected humanity, she’s pretty pathetic, but Henley has a way of making these losers lovable, and this director and cast have a way of bringing them all to very vibrant life.
The lighting and sound (Chris Renda; Robert May), especially in the fireworks display at the end, are noteworthy, and the low-end costumes (Kacia Castelli) are spot-on for the 1980s. The self-effacement and insecurity of these going-nowhere folks would be oh, so sad, if it weren’t so dang funny.
- “The Miss Firecracker Contest” runs through June 29 at New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad
- Performances are Thursday-Saturday at 8 p.m., with matinees Saturday at 3 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.
- Tickets ($22-$39) are at 760-433-3245 and online at www.newvillagearts.org
Pat Launer is a long-time San Diego arts writer and an Emmy Award-winning theater critic. An archive of her previews and reviews can be found at www.patteproductions.com.
>> Subscribe to Times of San Diego’s free daily email newsletter! Click hereFollow Us: