Theatre review: My Funny Valentine – both powerful and sophisticated

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Telling the story of 15 year-old Lawrence King, who was shot dead by a fellow student for reportedly asking him to be his Valentine, Dave Deveau’s My Funny Valentine sets out to explore the impact this tragedy had on six members of the Oxnard, California community where the shooting took place.

Playing each of the residents is the The Collector (Kyle Cameron).  Encircled on stage by notes, newspaper clippings, photographs and a number of props, The Collector becomes each of the six resident, telling their story and their reaction, relationship or impact to the shooting.

Cameron easily moves through each of the six characters grabbing and drawing us in immediately as the reporter first to cover the murder through to Rhonda, the young girl that receives one of King’s organs.  Interestingly it was these two bookend characters (if you exclude the re-appearance of Helen at the play’s conclustion) that Cameron seemed to have the most success with and given how polar different they were it is a testament to his skill as an actor.

Kyle Cameron stars in My Funny Valentine
Kyle Cameron stars in Dave Deveau’s My Funny Valentine on stage at the PAL Theatre.  Photo by Tina Kulic.

Along the way we also meet the young teen girl Gloria that feels cheated out of her own potential fame; Helen the teacher activist looking to make King’s death have meaning; and another teacher who can’t see beyond the possibility that King was master of his own fate.  Cameron did seem to struggle with the homophobe who himself feels persecuted because he cannot express his negative views on homosexuality, but arguably it is the most difficult of the six.

Jergus Oprsal’s subtle light changes worked well across Marina Szijarto’s simple set, with material surrounding the personal possessions of both Deveau’s characters and assumedly, those of King himself.

Director Cameron Mackenzie attempts to give his lone actor enough to do in this small space thinking perhaps that sometimes more is better.  I never quite figured out who actor Cameron was talking to as he seemed to look right through the audience which seemed in direct conflict to breaking down the fourth wall.

Playwright Dave Deveau attempts to gives us a balanced view of those that felt the shooting was perhaps justified and those that were outraged by the murder.  But what raises his new play beyond a simple debate, is Deveau’s decision to allow voices of indifference to also be heard.

In 2010 Deveau’s Tiny Replicas made our theatre top ten list.  With My Funny Valentine, Deveau proves himself once again as a playwright on the rise, but this time with a level of sophistication I have not seen before.

Noticeably absent through Deveau’s play are the names of the victim and the murderer.  While history may show us that sometimes the killer receive more notoriety than the victim, I am compelled to do my small part to make sure that doesn’t happen.

His name was Lawrence King.

4 out of 5 Stars My Funny Valentine

Written by Dave Deveau.  Directed by Cameron Mackenzie.  A Zee Zee Theatre production.  On stage at the PAL Theatre through April 30, 2011.

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