Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

Comic Miss Firecracker Contest Frolics
Adobe Theater
Review by Stephanie Hainsfurther

Also see Rob's reviews of Estoy en el Rincón and Proof

Janine O'Neill, Paul Hunton, Sheridan K. Johnson, Micah Linford
Photo by James Cady
The Adobe Theater crew in Albuquerque's North Valley knows their core audience. Old favorites play best, but they are not shy about updating (i.e., The Odd Couple, female version, coming in 2016). And they have launched local playwright premieres, such as A Crack in the Wall this season, and the upcoming The Gavonnes of Philadelphia.

This time, Director Philip J. Shortell has served up a confection and a reprieve from today's stresses and strains in an engaging lark of a play. The Miss Firecracker Contest by Beth Henley is new to us, but still goes into the "old favorites" category. It is set in a time before cell phones, big-box stores, and Spanx. Carnelle (Janine O'Neill), known locally as Miss Hot Tamale, wants to leave town. Before she does, she yearns to be known for something other than the long list of men she's slept with. The title of Miss Firecracker would suit her just fine.

Carnelle lives in the house of her deceased aunt in Brookhaven, Mississippi. Her cousin Delmount (Micah Linford), the rightful heir, is going to sell it out from under her. It's the perfect time to "go out in a blaze of glory." Delmount's sister Elain (Sheridan K. Johnson) shows up, on the run from a conventional marriage. Elain drinks. A lot. Elain is also a former Miss Firecracker and lends her famous red dress to cousin Carnelle for the evening gown competition. Carnelle's new friend Popeye (Sandra Williams) is sewing her costume for the talent portion.

It's a girly play and all the more fun for it. Women, go to this play for the drunken scene in the living room with Carnelle, Elain, and Popeye. The woman sitting next to me was leaning on my shoulder, crying from laughter. Trust me, you need this scene.

Quibbles? Just one. The act two fairgrounds set doesn't work as well as the living room of act one, despite the clever moving balloons.

The two supporting actresses are standouts in their roles. Johnson's portrayal of Elain hits all of the notes—breezy, insecure, vacillating, confident—whether drunk or sober. She's a force of nature who isn't sure she's still worthy of that crown. Williams embodies the shy and emotional Popeye, who feels mad love for Delmount yet maintains her unique personality. Williams's performance is an audience favorite.

But, as it should, the play belongs to Carnelle. O'Neill plays the lead with sincere charm, determination, endearing messiness, and the nervous tension befitting a contender for Miss Firecracker. With flaming red hair and in a variety of costumes, she is the undisputed centerpiece of the production. Her character grows throughout the competition in act two, and our hearts are with her all the way.

Veteran actors Linford and and Paul Hunton (playing Mac Sam, a former lover of Carnelle) do a nice job of supporting the ladies. Linford plays the crazy, angry cousin in act one, tempered in act two by the antics surrounding the contest and by Popeye's affection. Through Hunton's sly, nuanced performance, Mac Sam reminds Carnelle that she is loved. Kristina Caffrey as Tessy Mahoney gamely plays the Ugly Duckling and has a lot of fun with that whistle. This ensemble is fine and feisty.

The Miss Firecracker Contest runs through Sunday, November 22, 2015. Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2:00pm with a special Pay What You Will performance (to benefit the cast and crew) on Thursday November 12 at 7.30pm. Tickets are $17, seniors and students $15. Reservations 505-898-9222 or online at

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