My Funny Valentine deserves your attention

Comments2

By Dave Deveau. Directed by Cameron Mackenzie. A Zee Zee Theatre production. At the Firehall Arts Centre on Wednesday, February 20. Continues until March 2

Actors are sacrificial lambs. If you want to know what I mean, check out Anton Lipovetsky’s solo performance in Dave Deveau’s My Funny Valentine. The performance isn’t perfect, and neither is the evening, but both are so skilled and heartfelt that they deserve your attention.

In My Funny Valentine, playwright Deveau explores the issues and emotions evoked by the 2008 murder of Lawrence King, a 15-year-old high-school kid in Oxnard, California, who asked a schoolmate, Brandon McInerney, to be his Valentine. McInerney shot King twice in the head in the school computer lab. King died on Valentine’s Day.

Deveau’s approach is associative. Rather than showing us the characters we might expect to see, he turns his gaze to the periphery—to the victim’s English teacher, Helen, for instance, and to the homophobic dad of another male student.

The writing is frothily, often bitchily, funny. A little girl who will receive the dead boy’s liver has gay dads and resents it when women “give me a look like they want to nurse me”. Pubescent Gloria yearns to leave Oxnard, which claims fame for being the former home of film director James Cameron: “I don’t care how much money he spent on that Avatar movie. It still looks like a shiny cartoon.”

And Deveau’s meditation is complex. Helen, who has loved her gay student since he came out to her at 10, seeks justice—and, for her, justice involves supporting trying his killer as an adult. Her compassion takes sides. The homophobic father points out that the murdered gay student was sexually aggressive in ways that wouldn’t have been tolerated if he had been a straight boy objectifying girls.

For all of its thematic complexity, though, the script has little narrative drive, and sometimes—notably in the passage delivered by a male teacher—it starts to feel long. And despite the point that the homophobe makes about objectification, the character is mostly a cliché. The guy is working-class, unemployed, and, by his own admission, none too bright.

Lipovetsky’s performance rides a fine, sometimes contradictory line. Often, he bares his soul completely, as I’ve said. At other times, his acting is performative—still heartfelt, but broad. I’m thinking of Gloria, for instance, the would-be Oxnard escapee. With her, Lipovetsky leans so hard into the comedy, emphasizing her flamboyance and giving her such an exaggerated, valley-girl delivery, that she becomes much more of a theatrical creation than a credible, flesh-and-blood person.

With Helen, the actor manages to bridge both worlds. He plays the teacher’s giddy clumsiness for all it's worth, but he also unerringly hits the depths. When Helen said of her lost student, “He haunts me,” Lipovetsky’s delivery was so true on opening night that I had to swallow sobs.

Comments (2) Add New Comment
Hazlit
Something Colin likes! Shocking. I'll get flamed for this, but could it have to do with the fact that this is a gay love story?
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Rating: -10
Hazlit
OK, I went to see it. A fair but not particularly moving performance. But I think Colin got it backwards. Helen is by far the worst character in the show--while the moment when Larry King comes out to her is definitely moving--the rest of the time she just seems like a woman with nothing better to do than to try to get a 14 year old tried as an adult. She seems like a woman with an empty life who latched onto a gay kid to give meaning to her life.

The "homophobic" dad, however, makes some powerful points. In recounting the staring incident between Larry and his son he points out that if a boy had been staring at a girl instead of his boy the school administration would have had that boy in detention without so much as a hearing.

Similarly, the "straight" male teacher points out that wearing makeup and high heels and and behaving like a tart in the obviously sexualized way King did would have resulted in an intervention for a girl. But because he was a boy, the fact that his behaviour was disruptive in class was irrelevant.

Again, this is a piece to make us think about bullying in school, but Colin's review oversimplifies the issue into a "good" gay boy and a "bad" homophobic world that killed him. The play, tries, with some success, to suggest that the issue is more complicated than this.
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Rating: -3
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