The longer I live in Utah, the more I enjoy “Farley Family Xmas.”
James Arrington’s one-man show is a loving send-up of the large, bumptious families Utah is famous for. We’re never told specifically that they’re Mormons, but it’s clear they are, from Heber J. Farley’s gratitude for everyone’s “sparts” (read: “spirits”) to Aunt Pearl’s frequent exclamations of “Oh my heck!”
The setting is the annual Christmas gathering, and Heber is master of ceremonies. This is more or less by default; Arrington’s best, most vivid character has no public speaking skills, but as acting patriarch of the clan, the responsibility falls on him to introduce each of the speakers and quasi-talented performers who will entertain us Farleys (audience members are considered family) on this special occasion.
Heber is Every Mormon Grandfather, a perfect snapshot of post-middle-age verbosity and simplicity. Arrington plays him with delibrate anti-charisma: The guy’s so un-charming, he’s charming. (My favorite joke, three years running now, is when Heber accidentally refers to genealogist Aunt Pearl as a “gynecologist.” “She knows this family inside and out,” he says.)
So there’s “O Holy Night” as caterwauled by Aunt Viola (“When she sings a song, it stays sung,” Heber says), some holiday decorating tips from Aunt Beatrice, a plea from Boy Scout Eugene Farley for help with his Eagle project, and several other diversions.
Some characters, like little Delbert the drummer boy, while more or less accurate, don’t add much to the show; it’s the grown-ups who are most recognizable and therefore funny.
There’s also an out-dated reference to MTV’s “Beavis and Butthead” (the show hasn’t aired for a few years now), and during Aunt Pearl’s presentation of chintzy awards, Arrington used the opportunity opening night to make a million cheap and predictable Florida election jokes.
When he sticks to the good stuff, the show is hysterical, whimsically sweet and dead-on accurate. Utahns, Mormons, and everyone else will find themselves and their relatives in the people created by the inventive, plastic-faced James Arrington.
Interesting how whenever there's a major news event that doesn't kill anyone, suddenly everyone's a comedian. A comedian making the same jokes as everyone else. Within two weeks after the election, jokes about it were not funny anymore. Within two years after the election, people had finally stopped making them.