The Miss Firecracker Contest is the latest production by The Actors Guild of Parkersburg

Carnelle Scott has had a rough life. When her mother died, her father responded by dropping on the doorstep of her aunt and uncle. When her uncle passed away, her father reappeared, only to drop dead shortly after, followed not long after by her aunt, though not before her aunt consented to experimental treatments that left her somewhat hirsute. On top of it all, her favorite cousin Delmount never came back after being released from the asylum. And Carnelle’s response to all this abandonment has been somewhat less than positive, leading her to gain the unfortunate nickname, Miss Hot Tamale, not to mention an equally unfortunate, well, umm…condition that requires some shots. But she’s hoping to put all the negativity behind her. She’s going to church and doing charity work and she hopes to cap off her comeback by winning the local beauty pageant, The Miss Firecracker Contest.

This is where we find ourselves at the beginning of this tragically comic play by the brilliant Beth Henley. Peopled by a cast of quirky, idiosyncratic characters, all portrayed beautifully, this play is equal parts laugh out loud humor and heartbreaking sadness. Between the stellar material and equally excellent acting by all the players, The Actors Guild of Parkersburg has another winner on its hands.

Under the strong direction of Greg Merritt, the cast is led by Ashley Fluharty who is splendid as Carnelle. Melissa Arnold nearly steals the show, though, as the wonderfully wacky Popeye Jackson, a woman with a huge heart and terrible eyesight, due to a childhood eardrop incident that left her the uncanny ability to hear certain things with her eyes. Randi Wilson is also fantastic as Carnelle’s seemingly self-centered cousin Elain.

Like every character in this show, there’s a sad undercurrent that helps explain who she has become. And who she has become has a lot to do with her brother Delmount, who finally does show up, just in time to announce he’s selling the family home, including every stick of furniture. Isaac Eastwood is outstanding as this troubled man who has issues with women and a cynical outlook that covers up a softness he’s afraid to put on display. Rounding out the cast terrifically are Chloe Arnold as Tessy Mahoney, the kooky, whistle-blowing director of the pageant who carries a torch for Delmount and George Litman as Mac Sam, a former beau of Carnelle’s with a startling number of ailments, many the result of his lifestyle of dissipation.

This show is just great. You need to see it. You’d need to see it if it weren’t just to celebrate the return of traditional theater to the Guild. But this show deserves to play in front of packed audiences. So, get your tickets now. The curtain goes up Friday, May 21 at 8pm, with subsequent evening performances on the 22nd, 28th and 29th. Two matinees will run on May 23 and May 30 at 2:30pm. Go to their website to get tickets. You’ll be glad you did.