James Arrington’s one-man show “Farly Family Xmas” is a gentle skewering of the sort of people who live in Utah in particular, but who really can be found everywhere.
I have no family ties to Utah; the members of my family who are LDS joined the church in California. Yet the MC of the Farley family gathering, Heber J. Farley, is exactly like my grandfather, who has only visited Utah a couple times and didn’t become a Mormon until the 1950s.
That’s what the show has going for it: It’s universal and specific at the same time. The peculiarities of the Utah dialect (plenty of “for heck’s sake” in this show) and the very idea of having a family reunion attended by 500 people, all of them Farleys, definitely smacks of Utahism. But the characters themselves — from artsy-craftsy old Beatrice Farley to Eagle Scout candidate Eugene — can be found throughout Mormondom.
Arrington plays all the characters, with Heber introducing each one as he or she comes up to make his or her contribution to the family gathering. (Heber usually keeps a running commentary, too, to fill the seconds needed for Arrington to put on the wigs and other articles necessary to make the transformations.) Heber is by far Arrington’s best character, a man who has no MCing capabilities, but who must lead the reunion simply because he’s acting-patriarch of the family. He mixes words around, introducing Aunt Pearl the genealogist as the family’s “gynecologist” instead (“She knows this family inside and out”), he speaks too loudly into the microphone, and he gets teary-eyed when he speaks of old Grandpa Farley, who is pert-near 100 and “still full of vim and Viagra.”
Heber is Every Mormon Grandfather, and Arrington plays him with deliberate anti-charisma — the guy’s so un-charming, he’s charming.
Arrington is less adept at certain other characters, like the young Delbert Farley whose musical number is a disaster, and the lounge singer Vonelle Farley (frankly, singing Christmas carols in lounge-singer style simply isn’t very funny).
But he strikes gold with the aforementioned Grandpa Farley, a toothless, stumbling, lizard-tongued old dodderer who wakes up long enough to come up on stage and say pretty much nothing.
Aunt Pearl the genealogist calls up members of the audience — everyone there is considered to be a Farley — to give out prizes for various things. Here Arrington’s improvisation skills shine, interacting with audience members while staying flawlessly in character. (“They look so much like we do here,” he said of a young Belgian “Farley” last Friday night.)
Parts of the show — like the absurdly bad organ duet between Veta and Theta Farley — go on for too long, and not all of it is as dead-on accurate as it could be. But there’s a whimsical sweetness about this show, with just enough satire to call it that, but not enough to offend anyone. Arrington and his Farleys are an asset to the community.
For some reason, I liked this show better the second year I saw it. I think I was able to appreciate it better for what it was rather than be disappointed by what it was not, or something like that.