Vancouver’s Zee Zee Theatre presents a remount of My Funny Valentine to mark the tenth anniversary of the tragic murder of 15 year-old Lawrence King, shot by a male classmate after asking him to be his valentine.
The one-man play explores the impact of King’s murder on six members of the Oxnard, California community where the shooting took place.
Nominated for three Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards for its original production in 2011, playwright Dave Deveau received the Sydney Risk Prize for outstanding original play by an emerging playwright that same year.
This new production, starring Conor Wylie, returns to Vancouver after recently playing in Toronto. In this Q&A we find out more from writer Dave Deveau, and director Cameron Mackenzie.
This interview has been edited.
This is such a powerfully tragic and highly theatrical show, Is there any tweaks or changes you have done in this remount?
Deveau: As so much of the show takes place in the immediate aftermath of the murder, I didn’t tweak that text. The only new material stems from the final piece in the show, which I think I will retweak for every production to make sure it stays contemporary, in the here and now, which feels vital to that character’s journey.
You just completed a production of the show in Toronto – was that a little nerve-racking not being on your home turf?
Deveau: Yes and no. Toronto is in many ways my home turf as it’s where I started my career. In fact, Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, where this production debuted last week was the place that gave me my start. I was part of their Youth Program in 2002, then had my first professional show in their Rhubarb Festival, and went on to develop my first full length play in their Playwrights Unit. That being said, I haven’t lived in Toronto in 12 years so it definitely came with its own challenges and terror.
Is My Funny Valentine more relevant now because of the current American zeitgeist?
Deveau: It’s deeply saddening to think that the show is as relevant, if not more so, now than it was when we first presented it in 2011.
It’s been TEN years since the murder, TEN years since I started writing this play and so many of its arguments resonate. I have to remain hopeful that we are moving forward in some way, that the horrors of the alt-right movement are part of the inevitable pendulum swing and that it will swing back sooner rather than later. But it is an important reminder that visibility is political and that we need to keep bringing these stories to the forefront to crack open conversations.
What is your favourite part of working on this show?
Mackenzie: This is not an easy show to work on. Revisiting this murder and examining it from so many sides takes a lot out of me. Especially when this sort of thing continues to happen.
The one thing I do enjoy as a director is the intimacy of working one on one with the actor. There is a luxury in working on a one person show that I think we miss on shows with larger casts. With My Funny Valentine I get to give the actor my entire focus and I find I get to participate more in helping the actor go deeper in the role.
It is a lovely opportunity to revisit a previously produced work. What is the focus for you in this remount?
Mackenzie: This is the only piece that I have actually directed more than once. So I can only speak to this experience. For me coming back into this with a new actor is about finding the clarity of the story while at the same time not imposing too much of my previous work with another actor onto this new human. There is a reoccurring character we see three times at three very points in her life. She is the back bone of the piece and we ended up spending more time with her during this rehearsal period. The other actors have always done a fine job with her but there was something about her rage and bitterness that I felt needed to be heightened this time around. Perhaps echoing my own sense of rage and bitterness.
Anton Lipovetsky originated the role in a brilliant performance, how is it working with new actor, Conner Wylie?
Mackenzie: We’ve actually had three “Collectors”. We’re getting a bit like Dr Who over here at Zee Zee. Playwright Dave Deveau actually originated the role in the workshop production that happened at Summer Works. Then thanks to a week long intensive development workshop in 2010 with Playwrights Theatre Centre, dramaturg Don Hannah and actor Kyle Cameron the piece become what we see today. After the incredible Kyle Cameron premiered it in 2011, came the brilliant Anton Lipovetsky in 2013 and now, in 2018 we give you, Conor Wylie.
To answer your question, working with a new actor is always exciting. We both try and figure out each others language codes and work habits. It’s very rewarding for me as a director because understanding how an actor needs to be motivated is most of the job in my opinion and working with someone new makes me really use those skills of deduction, it keeps my eye sharp. And Conor is just a lovely, sensitive, hard working man, so its a pleasure to spend hours with him.
What do you want the audience experience to be?
Mackenzie: While I’m usually quite reticent to the idea that I can control my audience, I think the biggest thing I hope they take away from this is that no event is ever one sided. That if they can look at the world and see humanity in everyone in it we might do a little better.