The Miss Firecracker Contest is a two-act play that was originally produced in Los Angeles in the spring of 1980. It was the first play that Beth Henley wrote after Crimes of the Heart, but it was already in production before Crimes of the Heart won the Pulitzer Prize. Eventually, both plays were produced on Broadway and made into movies with screenplays also written by Henley. Holly Hunter played the lead role in both the Broadway and movie versions of The Miss Firecracker Contest. It became available in book form in 1985 from the Dramatists Play Service.
This story belongs in the group of Southern Gothic comedies for which Henley is best known. Its heroine, Carnelle, is an irrepressible young woman who thinks that winning the local beauty contest will restore her soiled reputation and make her somebody in her small Mississippi community. The family and friends who help her along the way are a dysfunctional bunch who tackle life in their own peculiar ways. There is a former beauty queen cousin, Elain, who comes to offer advice and to run away from her husband and children. Elain’s brother, Delmount, has come home from the mental institution to sell the family house and provide Carnelle another way out. Wandering into the chaos as Carnelle’s seamstress is sweet and strange Popeye, who falls in love with Delmount. The general conclusion the characters reach is that, even if the real you is not the fulfillment of your hopes, you will be more at peace if you learn to define and accept your own self.