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Stage review: 'Farley Family Reunion' still has touch

Published: Thursday, June 5 2003 12:00 a.m. MDT

FARLEY FAMILY REUNION; Provo Theatre Company; through June 21; (801) 379-0600. Running time 2 hours (one intermission).

PROVO — This Utah classic still works.

You'd think that a series of bits about the kind of family reunion that everyone in Utah has attended — at least once — would wear thin after a while.

After all, James Arrington, the playwright and star of this one-man show, has been stretching and contorting his face to become Aunt Pearl, Cousin Vonell, Fayreen, Heber J. and Grampa Farley in "The Farley Family Reunion" for more than 30 years.

But it's still funny and entertaining, largely because Arrington hasn't allowed it to become stale. He adds new pieces and the occasional new character just often enough to keep it interesting.

Yet, blessedly, the favorites remain.

Heber J. Farley as the family patriarch presiding over the chaotic reunion "talent" program is sonorous and a perfect mix of piousness and peevishness.

Asa Dean "Grampa" Farley is everybody's aged dad with the hitched-up pants and wheezy, inappropriate stories.

Leroy is still gonna lose the beans and is not about to apologize for buying the tractor with the drink dispenser so he can plow the rows of the family farm.

Tiffany is still saying the blessing on the food with a nice mix of political one-liners. "An' please keep Tom Green away from me," she whines along with demanding that the audience "Shut your eyes!"

The guest appearance of "professional performer James Arlington" doing absolutely silly magic tricks is so ridiculous and so funny, it's almost worth the price of admission in itself.

Vonell Farley is Arrington doing Vonell doing Elvis, Laura Bush, John Wayne and Barney imitations. They're so bad.

Aunt Pearl now does an audience participation segment and shows off her "beauteous" glamour portrait. Her "What would you a' done?" story was missing but, "Oh my crud!" is still there.

"Farley Family Reunion" has inexplicably become a Utah tradition, one honed on the peculiarities of both the LDS culture and the typical dysfunctional American family.

At Provo, it's done with the addition of a fairly elaborate and outrageous set.

Arrington has a screen-door entrance to a real house, patio tables strewn about, a lot of colorful props and an assortment of chairs.

Usually, he's working with only a microphone, a variety of wigs and glasses and the audience's imagination.

It's helpful to have the set, but it's still all vintage Arrington.

He's the personality, the voice and the mannerism of each of the characters — singing all warbley for Viola's part, punching the air for a cheerleader "Pipeline" routine, snapping his fingers as he bears his testimony in returned-missionary Portuguese.

If you've never seen it, catch it now.

If you have, you might want to revisit it. It's a hoot.

(Note: the theatre company has promised to have the air conditioning working better than it was on Friday night.)


E-MAIL: haddoc@desnews.com

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