Monday, September 29, 2008

Getting Uncle Val cranked up again
CODCO veteran revisits character born in 1970s
Sep 28, 2008 04:30 AM

An actor, comic, writer, but most of all a storyteller with a great gift for mimicry and an ability to draw an audience into his wacky concepts, Andy Jones returns to his old haunts at Theatre Passe Muraille Wednesday with his latest one-man show.

An Evening with Uncle Val stars a character that Jones invented in 1978, a retired and ailing fisherman in his late 70s forced to move from his rural life in an outport to live with his daughter's family in the suburbs of St. John's.

In the 1970s, when Newfoundland was experiencing a cultural revival, Jones was at a folk festival when he met Francis Colbert, "a monologist from Job's Cove in Conception Bay and I struck up a friendship with him. I started to say things as him." Colbert never recognized himself as Uncle Val – a crusty crank with a dim view of contemporary mores – when Jones performed with him on the same festival stage.

Uncle Val's circumstances came out of Jones's own family life. He and his three siblings – TV veteran Cathy, filmmaker Mike, and health agency worker Mary Winifred – grew up in the St. John's suburbs. Some of Uncle Val's turns of phrase and ailments were borrowed from Jones's father, whom Andy credits as a co-writer on the CD, Letters from Uncle Val, released in 2006. As he was working up material to do a launch of the CD, he was pushed by his publisher to make a full show. With Lois Brown as his director, Jones went back to his writing desk and Uncle Val soon had company.

"I found this other thread that was this whole look at the cultural revolution in Newfoundland in the `70s. That's where Andy Jones comes in: my hopes, dreams and aspirations." As the piece grew, other figures emerged: John F. Kennedy, Bob Marley, people that loomed large in the years of Jones's coming of age.

If it all sounds a little surreal, that's to be expected. From the first of his five one-man shows, Out of the Bin in 1984, Jones has produced side-splitting scenarios with a lunatic edge. In Still Alive in 1994 he created a royal commission on reality and offered the audience a money-back guarantee if the show didn't generate 200 laughs.

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Letters from Uncle Val, written and performed by Andy Jones is available as an Audio CD or Digital Download from Rattling Books.