Andy Jones makes the fur fly.
AN EVENING WITH UNCLE VALwritten and performed by Andy Jones, directed by Lois Brown. Presented by Theatre Passe Muraille (16 Ryerson). Previews Tuesday (September 30), opens October 1 and runs to October 19, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Saturday 2:30 pm. $15-$35, matinee pwyc. 416-504-7529.
Ever wonder why we love a good story? Andy Jones, one of the country's best storytellers, says it's in our DNA.
"I honestly think it's biological," says the CODCO member and playwright from his home in St. John's, Newfoundland, where he's between stops on his show's cross-country tour.
"You can't help but listen when someone says, ‘Once upon a time,'" explains Jones in that lyrical, singsong cadence of the Rock. He pauses and adds, "Unless the storyteller's really bad."
If nationwide acclaim for the show is any indication, Jones's one-man, multi-character piece An Evening With Uncle Val doesn't have that problem.
The title refers to the old-school Newfoundland fisherman character Jones created back in the late 1970s. Val is based on Francis Colbert, a fisher, musician and storyteller from Job's Cove, Conception Bay. After meeting at a folk festival in the mid-70s, the two became huge friends - Colbert even has a role in the CODCO film The Adventure Of Faustus Bidgood, just out on DVD.
"He had this wickedly dry sense of humour, and I'd find myself saying things that he would say."
Jones also drew on his own life. The script, set between 1986 and 1990, features a character named Andy Jones, who's dealing with fatherhood in the St. John's suburbs. He's also used bits of his own father, who was going through medical problems back then.
In some ways, the show marks a coming home for Jones. One of CODCO's first gigs, back in 1976, was at Theatre Passe Muraille, where this show is playing.
"That first show was very political," he says. "We were very aware that we were the first generation of Newfoundland and Labrador Canadians. We felt like we had to tell other Canadians what they were getting from the Rock. And Passe Muraille was terrific. [Artistic director] Paul Thompson was more than welcoming. It was all about access, according to Paul. He wanted to make sure everyone had access - to buildings, theatre, art."
It's funny we should be talking about access, since just over a month ago the Conservative government decided to cut the $4.7-million PromArt program for Canadian artists to tour internationally.
"A few weeks ago, the prime minister's wife, Laureen, was in Newfoundland on holiday and went to a little theatre out in a place called Cow Head," says Jones, expertly setting up yet another story.
"She went and saw the show, and when it was over she asked to meet the actors. The show had travelled all over the world, and she said she could certainly see why it toured.
"The actors," says Jones, not missing a beat, "said to tell her husband not to cancel the program that allowed them to go."
In addition to the show, Jones takes part in a series of storytelling workshops throughout the Passe Muraille run.
On why Newfoundlanders have a good sense of the absurd: