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Her reputation is just a bit tarnished - she's called Miss Hot Tamale, after all - but Carnelle Scott has a plan to win the admiration of the townsfolk in her small Mississippi community.

She plans to overcome her past by winning the local Fourth of July beauty pageant in "The Miss Firecracker Contest," the final East Central University Theatre production of the academic year. The comedy will begin at 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday [APRIL 9-12] in the Dorothy Summers Theatre.

Tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for non-ECU students and senior adults. ECU students, faculty and staff will be admitted free with valid ECU ID cards.

Natalie May of Prague plays Carnelle, the young woman who has changed her ways and wants some respect.

"Her goal is to win the Fourth of July contest. She's a wee bit inept, but we hope for the best," said director Theo Peshehonoff, ECU instructor of communication. "She's trying to redeem herself. She hopes everyone will admire her and look up to her if she wins."

Peshehonoff said he likes to end the theatre season on a light note with an up-lifting play. While it is a comedy, the play does contain some language and content that some could find objectionable.          

"It's a play about quirky southern families in a small town, people we all can relate to. They are fun, quirky characters who are just a little off center, just like most of us," he said with a smile.

"But there is something likeable about them all. They are all good-natured people who have some redeeming qualities."

The comedy was written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Beth Henley who also wrote the screenplay for the movie version.

Carnelle, who plans to tap dance to "The Star Spangled Banner" along with sparklers and Roman candles, is not the typical beauty pageant type of girl, Peshehonoff said.

"The play pokes fun at the silliness at a beauty contest," he said. "The second act takes place inside the dressing room. We see the back-stage shenanigans of the contest."

Popeye Jackson, the sweet but strange seamstress who makes Carnelle's costume, falls in love with Delmount Williams, Carnelle's cousin who returns home after a brief stay in a mental institution to sell the family home. Popeye will be played by Catie Caton of Sapulpa and Delmount will be portrayed by her husband, Sam Caton of Ada.

The two met and married after they were cast in another ECU play, "The Prisoner of Second Avenue." 

Delmount is pursued, however, by Tessy Mahoney, played by Katie Wilson of Oklahoma City, the unattractive beauty contest coordinator who talks about others behind their backs.

Kassie Ingle of Ada will play Elain Rutledge, Delmount's sister and a former Miss Firecracker herself who seems to have everything Carnelle lacks, beauty, a rich husband, a big house and a place in the best social circles.

James Hartsfield of Oklahoma City will play Mac Sam, a philosophical, ne'er-do-well carnival worker and Carnelle's former lover.

For reservations, call 580-559-5756.

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