The Miss Firecracker Contest | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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The Miss Firecracker Contest

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The Miss Firecracker Contest, Artistic Home. Beth Henley's comedy about a young woman hoping to lose her reputation as a tramp by getting crowned Miss Firecracker is bursting with over-the-top characters. Carnelle is the sweet, feisty, fiery-haired pageant entrant, who's not particularly bright but deserves a fresh start. After all, she's spent life overshadowed by two cousins: the beautiful Elain, who's recently escaped her perfect life of abundance, and the high-strung Delmount, just released from a mental institution. They expect Carnelle to lose the contest but support her nonetheless, as does the peculiar but good-hearted seamstress Popeye.

All these eccentrics are ably performed by the Artistic Home cast, who draw on hysterical physical antics--Georgann Charuhas's awkward Popeye is a joy--and histrionics: Katherine O'Neill and Peter Fitzsimmons bring childlike petulance to the cousins' sibling rivalry. Except for a dull carnival worker, the characters are explosive. And yet, as directed by John Mossman, the show begins with a bang only to fizzle somewhere near the end. For one thing, D. Jenna Wasmuth doesn't give Carnelle's disappointments enough weight to make her hopes compelling. Playing Carnelle as funny in a pathetic way gets laughs but doesn't allow room for a genuine transformation, which means the character's final scenes are lackluster.

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