The Miss Firecracker Contest – theatre review

St. Augustine’s Limelight Theatre opened the month of March with a bang with its revival production of Beth Henley‘s “Miss Firecracker.” Henley is best known for her Pulitzer Prize winning play, “Crimes of the Heart,” a play written in 1978 that is still widely done by community theatres all over the country. Ms. Henley has written almost twenty plays, with the first six set in the South. She is also a successful screenwriter, and was the author of the film adaptations for the plays mentioned above. This show was done in the Jacksonville area in 1985 at River City Playhouse. The cast included Connie Causey, Leigh Montanye, Dean Phillips, and Holly Gutshall. The story revolves around THEATRE_MissFirecracker-LimCarnell Scott, who was orphaned at the age of eight, and raised by her aunt. She is now twenty-two years old, and known as the loosest lady in Brookhaven, Mississippi. Carnell hopes to improve her reputation by winning the Fourth of July “Miss Firecracker” beauty/talent contest. She feels winning would bring the social acceptance she needs to move ahead with her life. Her ambitions are both helped and hindered by her two cousins, Elain, who won the “Miss Firecracker” title several years ago, and the crazy Delmont. How does she prepare? Does she succeed? We will leave that for you to find out. The play is on the Matuza Main Stage at 11 Old Mission Avenue in St. Augustine until March 30th. Director Tracey Gallagher has assembled an outstanding cast of actors to tell this story of bittersweet relationships, self deception, self determination and individual enterprise, along with the embracing of self acceptance by Carnell. Katie Timoney is Popeye, a young seamstress and costume designer, whose expertise is in making costumes for bullfrogs. Ms Timoney is marvelous as she captures this very funny and endearing character, and her experience of unexpectedly falling in love. Olive Gowan is Elaine, the beautiful and accomplished cousin who has walked out on her upper-crust life with her rich husband and two children and is in her own way every bit as eccentric as the rest of the family. Ms. Gowan is from Jacksonville, and is well known from her past three appearances at Players by the Sea, where she won the Best Supporting Actress award for her performance in “The House of Bernarda Alba“. Johsu Reynolds, as cousin Delmount, is new to our eyes as a performer, but it was immediately obvious that he is a fine comic actor. He plays a man with remarkably unruly hair, who has recently been discharged from a mental hospital and has had a job scraping off dead animals from the highways. To describe all his hang-ups would spoil the fun, but his portrayal will have you laughing. Kelly McTaggart is Mac Sam, the funniest totally unhealthy character we have ever seen on stage. He smokes, drinks, and has TB, lung cancer, and an untreated social disease (which he caught from Carnell, but that is another story). He is selling balloons at the festival, and despite his poor health, women still find him attractive. Rhodie Jackson plays Tessy Mahoney, the contest coordinator. Ms. Jackson is very familiar to the Dual Critics from her directing and acting at Orange Park Community Theatre and her most recent contribution as Stage Manager for ABET’s production of “Dirty Blonde.” Like many of Henley’s characters, she has a sexual past that is revealed, but mostly Tessy is a lady who laughs and laughs while doing her best to support the contestants. Kaycee Sapp as the spunky orphan who wants to change her life gives a very polished performance as the leading lady. This is her first leading role in community theatre, and her only previous appearance at Limelight was in “OZ.” A graduate of St. Augustine High, she appeared in “The Music Man” and “Les Mis.” The role of Carnell is very demanding with many costume changes and stage entrances and exits, but Ms. Sapp handled it well and brought excitement to the role. Production Manager Tom Fallon, who is the Scenic and Lighting Designer, has created an eye-appealing Southern Gothic living room filled with portraits for Act One, which is replaced by a circus tent dressing room for Act Two. Lorraine Rokovitz‘s costumes are colorful and vintage inspired. Mandy Marconi is the Stage Manager. Tracey Gallagher was a perfect choice for Director since she appeared in a version of this play in the past. She is obviously familiar with the tradition and culture underlying Beth Henley’s farfetched plots, and brings them to life with her direction. Yes, it is a comedy, but one that seeks to support the importance of compassion and family. For reservations and additional information, call 904-825-1134 or visit

About Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom

The Dual Critics of EU Jacksonville have been reviewing plays together for the past nine years. Dick Kerekes has been a critic since 1980, starting with The First Coast Entertainer and continuing as the paper morphed into EU Jacksonville. Leisla Sansom wrote reviews from time to time in the early 80s, but was otherwise occupied in the business world. As a writing team, they have attended almost thirty Humana Festivals of New America Plays at Actors Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, and many of the annual conferences sponsored by the American Theatre Critics Association, which are held in cities throughout the country. They have reviewed plays in Cincinnati, Chicago, Miami, Sarasota, Minneapolis, Orlando, New York, Philadelphia, Sarasota, San Francisco, Shepherdstown, and The Eugene O’Neill Center in Waterford, Massachusetts. They currently review about one hundred plays annually in the North Florida area theaters, which include community, college, university, and professional productions.