Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Interview with Andy Jones about Uncle Val on

A retired fisherman wrested from his outharbor home to live in “big city” St. John’s, Uncle Val is cranky, despondent, and utterly sidesplitting in this one-man, one-act play, written and performed by Gemini Award–winner Andy Jones (of CODCO fame). Trapped in suburban hell with his daughter, her nauseating husband and their spoiled-rotten children, Uncle Val struggles to find a purpose in his old age while coming to grips with a modernizing Newfoundland. Set in the late ’80s, Val’s fear of mortality is mirrored by his uncertainty about the changing province. “It’s ultimately a story of hope for Newfoundland and it’s sort of reflected in [Val’s] hope for himself,” explains Jones. “At first he thinks he’s finished, but suddenly he realizes he’s got a role to play in the family. So at the end, things are looking bad, but he’s full of hope that things will change.”

I understand Uncle Val is a character you’ve been refining for the past 30 years. How did he originate?

[Laughs] Refining is right. He’s a character that I started to write around 1978. He’s an outport Newfoundlander, a retired fisherman, who through a series of unfortunate events ends up living in St. John. So he moves from a very rural traditional Newfoundland lifestyle to the suburbs of St. John’s. He was really based on friend of mine who actually was retired fisherman and a storyteller, and his name was Francis Colbert. He was a very funny guy, a very witty, dry fellow. I often used to imitate him and then, after a while, a character started to form and I came up with Uncle Val. Because I grew up in the suburbs myself, I started incorporating some ideas of the suburbs into some little monologues I started to do for CBC and the radio, and then it grew.

You grew up in St. John’s suburbs, but Uncle Val is disdainful of them. Why is that?

Well, there is a kind of an arc to the story. He arrives in St. John’s and he hates it; he hates his grandchildren, he hates everything and he’s very unhappy. But then he comes to realize that the suburbs are kind of interesting. Eventually, his daughter has another child and he’s in good shape physically, so he starts helping around the house with babysitting and stuff. So, he becomes more useful and fits into the family. So that’s kind of the end of the story in a way, as things are going well for him.


An Evening with Uncle Val previews Tue 8pm. Opens Oct 1. Runs to Oct 19. Wed 8pm. Preview $15. $30-$35. Theatre Passe Muraille, 16 Ryerson. Toronto, Ontario

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