Janine O’Neill leaves everything she’s got on the stage—including her bloomers—in The Adobe Theater’s production of “The Miss Firecracker Contest” directed by Philip J. Shortell. Playing Carnelle Scott, a twenty-something Ole Miss desperate for just one positive achievement in her so far glum life, O’Neill excels in her determination to bring a little Down South attitude to the Southwest.
Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Beth Henley prepared this casserole of sympathy and snickers in 1979. Though not widespread on stage, ten years later Holly Hunter starred as Carnelle in a screen adaptation directed by Thomas Schlamme (treasured in New Mexico as the executive producer of “Manhattan”). Henley’s characters in “Firecracker” are mostly prized for their peculiarities stemming from unfortunate circumstances and choices. Through two acts, the audience is treated to her exploration of a measure of misfits.
Shortell stages the opening splendidly as O’Neill stomps through a practice run of Carnelle’s routine for the July Fourth beauty contest. Her act is so bad it’s great and O’Neill never gives up on Carnelle’s determination to be talented and beautiful even though she knows it’s not true. Sandra Williams reaches a believable note delivered with a simple flair in her portrayal of Popeye Jackson, a wistful young seamstress enamored with Carnelle’s attention-grabbing family.