OREM — This Christmas season you’ll hopefully get to spend some time with your families. I imagine there may be some awkward moments as an uncle says something that irks you, a sibling makes a ridiculous slip of the tongue, or some niece or nephew begrudgingly or overly enthusiastically performs a talent that’s “not quite ready for prime time.” Take your original images now and magnify those by about 100 times, and you get the idea of the Farley Family Christmas at UVU.
James Arrington is the star of this one man show (which he also wrote and directed), guiding the audience through a small portion of the family’s “bottomless talent.” Musical performances from the visiting Texan to a Mesquite lounge singer and Aunt Viola’s stuttering vibrato will be a part of the “progrum” Heber Farley has organized. Audience members wear name tags to join the holiday party being held in the auditorium of Parley Farley’s new house. Heber Farley graciously and emphatically emcees introductions, talents, and announcements for the party. It goes about how you’d expect such an event to proceed with endless interruptions and sidebars being shared. There isn’t much of plot to how this will all end except whether the house and the Farley family will still be in one piece by the end of the show.
The show overall is an endless character study of various personalities that are prevalent in many of our families. My colleague joined the family this summer and really captured the spirit of the experience. I would even say that some of the things that he disliked, like a lack of use of set dressings (by Richard Clifford) was resolved. The set actually provided some of the best repetitive gags starting of the show. Chester Farley sets up and fixes a mic stand with an ingenious use of chewing gum which catches all the family members, from Great-Grandpa to the youngest kids, off-guard as they deal with the “alien blood” that is holding it up. Likewise the eight or more Christmas trees that adorn the stage are decorated with props and also get in the way of people, dogs, and pudgy ballerinas—all to the benefit of the comedy of the show (sorry, Sweetums). The house itself helped move much of the action in the first half of the party because Parley had outfitted it with every alarm system imaginable so he could better market his home security sales. Consequently, the house’s alarms comically cover costume changes as the food storage is raided or inappropriate TV shows are found on cable by teenagers. It was a clever way to incorporate the multilevel marketing culture so frequently found in Utah. Plus, it made for creative transitions from scene to scene.
Heber definitely dominates the family with his half-deaf, Utah accented way. He gently or brusquely helps usher each new family member on the stage, but the transition to hearing him “backstage” is flawless. Heber makes some personal slip-ups; hopefully his wife, Pearl, won’t ever find out that I thought the best part of the night was him calling her the family gynecologist, instead of her appropriate job working in family history. Pearl herself deftly manages giving out Christmas presents to a few random members. She never misses a beat when they are upset about losing contests or don’t like a “free furnace with purchase of air conditioner.” She just shrugged it off with a casual “what the crud.” Some other memorable moments from the party included 5-year-old Delbert’s “lill drumml boy,” and his appropriate grunts of resistance before performing. Aunt Beatrice is the Julia Child of Christmas decorations, creating works of art out of tuna cans and soda pop tops, and Eugene uses them as a great last minute Eagle project he if can just explain it though the head tosses to get his bangs out his eyes.
Like all family functions there are many things to love and a few that would be easier to endure if they were happening in another room. There are moments when I wondered if the characters can really be that extreme, even though I knew they were supposed to be caricatures. There are jokes or gags some audience members may not understand if they don’t have enough experience in Utah/Idaho/Mormon quirks. There’s also the chance that some jokes may not seem funny because they hit too close to home. The jokes spread across a broad spectrum of humor, from outright physical comedy to the little personal quirks that can drive a person crazy.
Really, the “blessings” of laughter are always in flux, and the nature of the family doesn’t always make sense. Today’s teenagers may not know why the Farley cousins set off an alarm for watching Beavis and Butthead. Yet, at other times even Heber knows how to Skype. I was surprised that apparently all the 20 to 30-year-old members of the family were missing in Arrington’s family program. Granted, Heber warned me to “keep my trap shut if I didn’t like it,” But everyone in the audience is family in this event, eventually an inside joke hits home, and I forgave the show of its shortcomings and moved on.
So if you need a little holiday spirit and want to see some sensational characters, you’ll find the chestnuts are roasting and nutty—and a few will set off the security system to self-destruct the house—at the Farley Family Christmas this season.