The Little London Dinner Theatre is a good setting for James Arrington’s one-man “Farley Family” shows. The setting is always a family reunion, with the audience members assumed to be fellow Farleys, and what better activity for a family reunion than eating?
Arrington makes the most of this in “The Mylaynniul Farley Dinner Party” (“mylaynniul” being how a Farley, native of Utah, would pronounce “millennial”). While the audience is eating dinner before the show, he comes out as Aunt Pearl (the Farley family “historican”), going from table to table to see how all the Farleys are doing and to give them nametags.
When the show officially begins, Arrington is Heber J. Farley, acting patriarch of the family (old Grandpa Asa only wakes up occasionally) and by-default master of ceremonies whenever the clan gathers. “How grateful to be alive and to feel your sparts (Utahn for “spirits”) when we was supposed to have World War III,” he says by way of introduction.
Heber is Arrington’s best character, capturing perfectly the prototypical Mormon Grandfather. He stumbles over introductions, occasionally gets a bit choked up at “what a blessing” it is that some thing or other has happened, and just generally presides and conducts without any real presiding or conducting skills.
Much of Arrington’s shtick here is the same as in his “Farley Family Xmas,” a perennial favorite in this area. Aunt Viola, who caterwauls “O Holy Night” at Christmastime, sings “Climb Every Mountain” this time around (“When she sings a song, it stays sung,” Heber says without a trace of irony). Her part is brief, but funny.
A highlight of the show is teen-ager Fayreen’s being forced to do one of her cheerleading numbers. Arrington has just the right tone of voice and facial expression for a teen who probably didn’t want to come in the first place, let alone perform for all her stupid relatives, and there’s true pleasure in watching a rather large middle-aged man dressed as a teen-age girl flouncing around the stage, acting like a cheerleader and humming his own accompaniment.
The show ends with an adorable little girl giving the closing prayer. I applaud Arrington for having the guts to poke gentle fun at the way little kids pray — not at prayer itself, of course, but at how our children do it.
A great treat is when Heber introduces a special guest — James Arrington himself (or “Arlington,” as Heber calls him), who comes out to do a high-energy, giddily stupid magic act. It’s a display reminiscent of an old Steve Martin routine as Arrington grins like a fool while doing the dumbest magic tricks imaginable, again humming his own “exciting” music — and the result is hysterical.
The show drags in several places, though, particularly when the non-Utah Farleys make appearances. Texas hick Uffer K. Johnson is proud of his daughter, Queezledean, for making it as a professional wrestler, but he’s not terribly funny. And fatuous lounge singer Vonell Farley is similarly challenged. Doing a dead-on parody of Utah families and their customs is funny and full of potential; making fun of lounge singers has been done to death.
Pretty much the same thing as the "Farley Family Xmas," only with the Christmas references removed. James Arrington later freely admitted this to me, at the same time as mentioning that he's working on a "Farley Family Funeral" show, at which old Grandpa Farley will die and an impromptu funeral will be held. I am honestly looking forward to that.