A hate-crime tragedy that happened a decade ago is at the heart of My Funny Valentine, a one-man play coming to Surrey City Hall’s Centre Stage theatre on Thursday, June 28.
Playwright Dave Deveau’s award-winning script was written in response to the 2008 murder of Lawrence King, a 15-year-old shot by a classmate after King asked the boy to be his Valentine.
The incident happened in Oxnard, California, and Deveau first heard about it while watching The Ellen DeGeneres Show.
“It’s usually sort of an upbeat, playful show but in 2008, just after this happened, she started the show on a very somber note and talked about this incident, and she was very emotional,” Deveau recalled. “I thought, how come I’ve never heard of this case? I immediately started researching and became more and more obsessed with the case – not necessarily thinking it was a play at all, because that came much later, but just needing to know more information.”
First workshopped in Toronto, the 2009 version of Deveau’s script was “quite literally about my obsession with this case,” he said.
The play has since evolved to become the one-man, seven-character production currently on a three-city tour of Victoria, Duncan and, finally, Surrey, where the show date is timed with Pride celebrations that include a festival at Holland Park on June 30.
Since 2011, East Vancouver’s Conor Wylie is the third actor given the task memorizing the text of Deveau’s work, which includes the characters of journalist, disgruntled father, an 11-year-old girl, a teacher and others, each caught in the orbit of the boy’s murder.
The current show clocks in at around 85 minutes.
“I was really drawn to the challenge of it, performing a solo show of this sort of scope, and I’d say that is the biggest challenge of it – the scope of it,” Wylie said. “I haven’t done a word count but it’s a lot of text, and it’s really emotionally draining, this show. I say that but there’s also a lot of levity and humour in it as well. It really runs a huge emotional range, but it does have very intense emotional demands on the actor.”
A decade ago, what hit Deveau most was “the bizarre contradiction of this fairly meaningless action, the innocent action of asking someone to be your Valentine, which feels like such a dated and sweet potential notion, and this tremendous act of violence,” he said.
“I think every so often something in the media cycle just hits you in the solar plexus for whatever reason, and this was one of those stories.”
In 2011, as the play was rewritten and re-imagined prior to its premiere, the trial was taking place.
“So every morning I was doing drastic rewrites as more and more details of the case were part of the public record, so the play and the real-life events have been happening on this fascinating path,” noted Deveau, a Coquitlam resident who runs Zee Zee Theatre with the play’s director, Cameron Mackenzie.
My Funny Valentine is a winner of the Sydney Risk Prize for Playwriting, and has been nominated for three Jessie Richardson Awards and the Oscar Wilde Playwriting Award in Dublin, according to a post at zeezeetheatre.ca.
“It’s an emotional journey, from start to finish,” Deveau explained, “and this show obviously has some sadness to it but it also has big laughs as well. As a playwright I have to balance the dark with the light, because that’s how we cope as a society, finding that sense of balance.”
At Surrey’s Centre Stage (13450 104th Ave.) on June 28, show time is 8 p.m. Tickets range in price from $25 to $35, at the door, online at tickets.surrey.ca or call 604-501-5566.