James Arrington to Give Farewell Performances of FARLEY FAMILY REUNION at SCERA, 3/31-4/5
When a repairman came to the Arrington home to work on the family's sprinkler system he asked Colleen Arrington if her husband was the man who performed the hilarious one-man show "The Farley Family Reunion."
"Hey, Hebe," she shouted to James, who was on the back porch. Without missing a beat, he wheezed "Whaaat?" in his best Heber Farley voice. The repairman roared.
For more than 30 years Arrington has been making people laugh as he takes on multiple parts, young and old, male and female, of the zany but lovable Farley clan. People inevitably come up to him to ask whether family genealogist Aunt Pearl, or old-as-the-hills Grandpa Dean, or eccentric family president Uncle Heber could possibly have been patterned after some of their own relatives.
"They may be wacky, but there is something universal about this odd collection of relatives that might remind you of members of your own family," Arrington says.
Generation after generation have seen "The Farley Family Reunion," but Arrington has decided at last to cancel the reunion, and the SCERA Center for the Arts will host the final farewell performances of the show that critics have called "sidesplitting" and "wildly funny."
Heber Farley will totter onto stage March 31 at 7:30 p.m. and greet audiences through April 5 at SCERA Center for the Arts, 745 S. State St., Orem. Reserved-seat tickets are $12 for adults and $10 for children (age 3-11), seniors (age 65+) and students (w/ID) and are available from 10am-6pm weekdays and Saturdays from 12Noon-6pm at the SCERA Center, by calling (801) 225-ARTS, or online at www.scera.org.
The final performances will offer two new elements to the show. There will be special appearances prior to performance where a character or two will appear in the audience. After the show, Arrington will offer a "talk back" with audience members and take questions from those who wish to stay. He will reveal where characters came from, how he came up with the name Farley, funny experiences from the past and explain how choices were made in producing the show over the years.
When asked why, after 33 years and thousands of shows around the country, the Farley Family will stop its reunions, Arrington's answer is a simple, "It's just too hard. I don't have the oomph anymore to repeatedly do the two-hour show."
That realization came to the professional actor, playwright, producer, director and professor at Utah Valley University's Department of Theatrical Arts last fall when he performed "Farley Family Reunion" three nights a week for an entire month.
"By the end of the run I could hardly function," he says. "I took that as a signal, so I've decided to go out with a blast. I'm retiring it, but with an asterisk. I love the Farleys, so I might do short segments that I call concert versions or versions I carry around in a suitcase. Who knows what is down the line, but I'm serious about this being a final run."
A young man when he portrayed Uncle Heber, he says the role was clearly a satire. "Now the satire is not so clear-I could probably be Heber," he laughs. "And while it is still so fun to perform in front of an audience, its timing has to be exquisitely precise, which is not very fun when you rehearse it alone. In fact, rehearsing without an audience is a killer."
Although Arrington has many credits on his resume, Farley is his most identifiable role, and the play emerged when he was a single young man participating in the Utah Valley dating scene. He would entertain at parties by doing characters. Inspiration that they could be more than party entertainment came after reading a book by BYU professor Don Marshall called "The Rummage Sale." Marshall's poignant/funny/touching vignettes about people who were all related provided a framework for Arrington's characters.
"I made my characterizations related, and the logical next step was to put them together at a reunion," he says. "And the characters grew from there." Arrington initially used an actress to portray the female roles, but the work was too sporadic to keep her engaged in the challenging work. "So I did the women, too, and really love the zany Farley women. I once had a member of the audience shake her finger at me and scold me because she thought they sang Christmas hymns inappropriately, but I had to explain they were simply singing them the best way they could. They just weren't very good at it."
Arrington is also known for his one-man show, "Here's Brother Brigham" and the writer/producer of a one-man show about early Mormon prophet J. Golden Kimball. "There's no way I could portray J. Golden," he says. "I could not become 6'3" and weigh 130 pounds."
Aside from his work at UVU, he is in the middle of auditions for "Fiddler on the Roof" for Sundance Summer Theatre this summer. He recently wrote a new play, "Identity Crisis," and will play "The Farley Family Xmas" at UVU in December, ending its run of about 15 years.
"I'd say James is pure acting perfection, says Adam J. Robertson, SCERA's President and CEO. "We are honored to help the beloved Farleys go out with a splash."
Photo courtesy James Arrington