There’s a gentle nuttiness about “Farley Family Xmas,” James Arrington’s one-man show in which he plays several different members of that fictional but oh-so-real family.
The multiple characters have personality and verve, but none are completely off-the-wall or hyper. There’s the wealthy Parley Farley, whose heavily fortressed home is the site of the gathering; sweet old Aunt Viola, whose sings “O Holy Night” in that kind of quasi-operatic caterwaul that will sound all too familiar if you’ve ever been to church around Christmastime; and old grandpa Asa Farley, who staggers around and can barely speak above a hoarse whisper.
These characters and the several others presented are amusing, but never hysterical. The show doesn’t drag — and it’s only 105 minutes long — but it never really bursts out, either. If ever a show could be described as “moseying,” this is it.
The MC of the Farley family get-together is Heber J. Farley, who rattles off his relation to everyone else very quickly in the beginning. This is Arrington’s best character, and by far the most real. (I’d swear that was own grandfather up there!) From his opening line of “Merry Christmas and Caesar’s greasings” to his final “for heck’s sake,” he’s full of post-middle-age verbosity and rural Utah simplicity. Arrington’s accent here is great, making the character a memorable one.
In general, “Farley Family Xmas” is cute and amusing, good for a family outing. (In fact, while BYU shows normally don’t run on Mondays, this one does, in order to make it a potential Family Home Evening activity.) While funny in parts, it’s rarely gut-bustingly hilarious. You chuckle, you smile, you generally enjoy. You’re not sorry you saw it, but it doesn’t really stick with you the next day, either.
There are moments, however, when you can tell Arrington, who also wrote the show, has a clever, mischievous streak in him. Parley’s home security system includes attack dogs, which we are admonished to keep the kids away from, because “they don’t know the difference yet between a dwarf and a child.” A character recalls breaking a Christmas tree ornament and having it cut his hand, “and there was blood, but it was the color of Christmas.” And most memorably, Heber introduces the family historian as being an expert in gynecology, instead of genealogy. (“She knows this family inside and out,” he says.)
These lines and a few others hint at the impish recklessness that lies dormant at the bottom of the show. If there were more of them, the show would be more cutting-edge, more insane. As it is, it’s gentle, good-natured and silly — and that’s fine. But watch young Utahnna, dressed as an enormous snowman, doing a destructive dance around the stage, and see if you don’t wish there were more of that kind of loopy anarchy elsewhere in the show.
Approximately one-third of the audience I was in consisted of mentally retarded young adults who were there as some kind of group activity. Aside from the random yelling (they were particularly fond of "Look out!"), they were probably the best audience Arrington ever had: They laughed at everything he did, including -- especially -- the things that weren't funny.
I really liked the gynecology joke. I giggled about it for hours, especially the part about "she knows this family inside and out." Man, that's a great joke. Unfortunately, that great joke died of loneliness in the barren wasteland of the rest of the show.