Sitting in the theatre on Valentine’s Day, on the 10-year anniversary of Lawrence King’s death, a heavy sadness fills the space. The events of a decade ago were made so much more real given the horrific events which unfolded in Parkland, Florida on Valentine’s Day of this year.
While waiting for My Funny Valentine to begin, we hear news clips from the aftermath of a tragic shooting in which the 15-year old King was murdered by a classmate after he sent him a card that simply read, “will you be my valentine?”
Based on this actual event, playwright Dave Deveau has created a play which explores gun violence in America, and the horrific hate crime that shook King’s Oxnard, California community.
A poignant story told in the form of monologues, the sole performer, Conor Wylie, takes on seven vastly different characters, including a teacher, a young girl, and a parent of another student. These characters tell of their relationship to King, and we come to see the ripple effects of the crime, and its impact on the community.
Wylie boldly carries the 85-minute show with a seasoned sense of ease and a grounded presence. This is no small feat, for a play filled with emotional gravitas and many different voices. The script brings an element of comedy into an otherwise dark tale, and Wylie does well with these comedic moments.
Despite Wylie’s sensitive take on many of the characters, some are exaggerated to the point of stereotype. This is particularly true for the female and gay characters. This creates a sense of distance which makes it harder to feel connected to them on a genuine level.
Designed by Marina Szijarto, the set is striking. Beautiful and simple, with many tiny items arranged in the middle of a circle of photos, the stage picture promises good things to come. It serves as a memorial to this young boy whose life was taken. Combined with Jergus Oprsal’s moody lighting and the clips we hear pre-show, there is a strong base, but unfortunately, we do not get close enough for My Funny Valentine to hit us in the most powerful way.
While there is potential for this play to incite conversation and change, with each character on the periphery of the crime, it also feels distant. What I craved was a final monologue from the heart of this story, from someone closer to Larry King himself.
My Funny Valentine, by Dave Deveau. Directed by Cameron Mackenzie. A Zee Zee Theatre Production. On stage at The Scotiabank Dance Centre (677 Davie St) until February 18. Visit http://zeezeetheatre.ca for tickets and information.