I'm always a little reluctant to review stage productions that have been transferred to television or video.

Too often, when they're just videotaped performances, they tend to be somewhat lifeless, lacking that necessary spark, the audience-performer rapport that comes with a live performance.Or, like last season's "Women and Wallace" (telecast on PBS's "American Playhouse"), the playwright revises the script to accommodate a different medium. Again, the immediacy of a live performance is lost somewhere in the process.

I was afraid something like this would happen in James Arrington's video version of his phenomenally popular "Farley Family Reunion."

But, if you separate the two - the live one-man show and the video - you'll find each stands very well on its own.

There are some trade-offs. The "tailgate party" ambiance of watching James Arrington live and in person on the lawn at Wheeler Historic Farm is missing (the video appears to have been taped before a considerably smaller audience in front of a real home in Alpine), but there are great closeups of Arrington's flexible, Silly Putty face as he moves from character to character.

And, as legions of Farley Family fans will surely be pleased to learn, most of the family is present and accounted for: reunion host Uncle Heber, busily mangling the King's English; sound expert and potato chip aficionado Chester; addlepated Grandpa Asa Dean; songstress extraordinaire Viola; virtuoso Verdell; returned-missionary LaMar Dean; forever-ailing Aunt Minnie June Booth; good ol' boy Cousin Ufer K. Johnson; hayseed Leroy; budding poet Eddie; blond bimbo majorette Fayrene Farley; Lizard Lounge headliner Uncle Von (all the way from Mesquite, Nev.); Aunt Pearl's presentation of the Famous Farley Family Feature; and - last, but certainly not least - Little Tiffany and her show-stopping Blessing On The Food routine.

With J. Scott Iverson at the helm as director and Scott W. Angus' tight editing, the video version of "The Farley Family Reunion" is several cuts above last year's markedly inferior "Saturday's Warrior" (produced and directed by a different team).

The "Farley" video is less theatrical, and Arrington's producers have taken advantage of the video medium to do some interesting things - starting right off with Heber wondering why there's no picture on the dad-gummed, newfangled camcorder. (When he removes the lens cover, suddenly he sees the light.)

Instead of the pauses for costume changes (always a problem in one-person stage shows), Arrington has made good use of occasional doubles, placing them just off to the edge of the screen with their backs to the audience, to permit some dialogue between the family members he's portraying.

So, unlike the stage version, there are shots of Ufer waving goodbye as his diesel truck heads out of the driveway, Heber and Pearl in a heated discussion about when to start the program (Pearl's new quartz movement watch, which has lost less than one second so far this year, vs. Heber's personal time-check that very morning with the telephone company), and even Tiffany and Heber side-by-side during the hilarious blessing.

There's some suspense here, too. In the stage version, Tiffany presents her Shaggy Dog style blessing midway through, with the reunion lunch break providing an excuse for intermission. But there's no intermission in the video - so Little Tiffany doesn't do her thing until the very end. While I was watching this with my family, they kept wondering "Where's Tiffany? Where's Tiffany? Didn't he do Tiffany?"

Like most families and their reunions, followers of the "Farley" clan probably have their personal favorites. And, just like on stage, some of Arrington's characters work better than others. With the video, you can just fast-forward until you find an aunt or cousin you like.

The new family members he added this past season are here - hyprochondriac Minnie June ("I ain't no dumb-bunny . . . I know the difference between hiatal hernia and cancer . . . slowly strangling your body like a great gray octopus . . . just like I saw on Phil Donohue!") and creaky old Grandpa Asa Dean ("He's nearly 100 and still so full of vim and Vitalis!").

Aunt Viola is in top form, too - once Heber entices her out of the kitchen (and her famous green Jell-O) to give her rendition of the Farley Family song. The term "siren song" comes to mind - at least it sounds more like a siren than a song.

Folks who've seen James Arrington's stage show won't be disappointed in this new video version.

The only thing missing is a set of blank "Hello-my-name-is . . ." name-tags and a bagful of potato chips.

This video is probably best watched in a family room full of aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. - although your family most certainly isn't as weird as the Farleys.

Or maybe it is.


Q: Although you told a reader that tape rewinders don't have counters, I own a VHS tape rewinder that does. It's a Kinyo UV-512. You were correct when you said the counter numbers would not coincide with a VCR's, so I just catalogue my tapes using the rewinder's numbers.

A: Right you are. I've since learned your Kinyo with three-digit counter is still available in stores for about $20. Two other Kinyo models also have counters, as well as some models under the Solidex and Ambico brands. - Andy Wickstrom (Knight-Ridder)