Review: My Funny Valentine by Zee Zee Theatre

On February 12, 2008, Brandon McInerney walked into his school's computer lab and shot his gay classmate, Lawrence King, twice in the head.

Anton Lipovetsky in My Funny Valentine

This is the setting of local playwright Dave Deveau's My Funny Valentine, but not its story. Instead we meet seven characters caught in the orbit of the tragic event: parents, teachers, schoolmates, and community members, who in turn share thoughts, reasoning, and reactions to the tragic event.

Deveau's nuanced depiction of a community in mourning is filled with well-developed, compelling, and contradictory viewpoints. The balance he achieves amongst these arguments is a masterful one, and transforms what could easily have been a soapbox into a profound and aching series of questions about identity, compassion, and our ability to change as a society.

As the audience enters the Firehall Arts Centre theatre, director Cameron Mackenzie already has actor Anton Lipovetsky situated on stage. He sits sullenly behind a carefully arranged pile of detritus, inside a large circle of newspaper and magazine clippings. The seating configuration is also unconventional, with audiences members sitting around three sides of the clippings.

The series of rings is a clever piece of set design from Marina Szijarto that architecturally echoes the narrative, which follows characters caught in peripheral orbit around Lawrence King's death.

Kyle Cameron in the production's 2011 staging.

Every role is played by the mercurial Lipovetsky, showing enormous physical and vocal dexterity in conjuring a neurotic, passionate female teacher, the blue-collar father of a boy Lawrence hit on, a dramatic valley girl, a 66-year old gay man who has watched the world change, and more.

A great challenge inherent in multiple-character, one-person shows is differentiating the characters from one another. Very often one finds actor relying upon affectations – fake voices and over the top physicality – to make such distinctions. Mackenzie's direction sees Lipovetsky rise above by ensuring that each of the characters is a fully realized, fully articulated human being. Each certainly possesses a unique voice and set of mannerisms, but they originate from an organic, authentic place, rather than an assumed one. It is a difference that is subtle in description, but makes all the difference when experienced.

The play transports the audience through gales of laughter, moments of clarity, fits of rage, and places of aching, compassionate sorrow. There is only one character who recurs on this journey, and her path takes her from passionate to bitterness to confusion. There is no neat conclusion to make everything okay; we are left questioning what can possibly be done to stop this from continuing to happen – a heartbreaking and relevant question in recent months.

Still, there is something in My Funny Valentine that makes the medium its message. Its 90 short minutes fill the audience with compassion for a divisive and eclectic selection of strangers. In one particular scene, a man wonders whether the shooter could have acted if he had ever had the experience of shooting a rabbit. It may be idealistic, but one can not help but wonder if we, as a society, might be more compassionate if we could share empathetic experiences like My Funny Valentine more often.

 
My Funny Valentine runs to March 2 at The Firehall Arts Centre.
 
Click here for tickets & info.
 
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