Ellen DeGeneres stopped her show. She said she needed to talk about something “really serious and really sad.” You could hear her throat tighten as she spoke. Understandably.
“On Feb 12 an openly gay 15-year-old boy named Larry, who was an eighth grader in Oxnard, California, was murdered by a fellow eighth grader named Brandon. Larry was killed because he was gay. Days before he was murdered, Larry asked his killer to be his Valentine.”
The heartbreaking irony of the story drew an audible sigh from the audience. Understandably.
Vancouver playwright Dave Deveau was watching Ellen that day.
“Every so often a news story will sucker-punch you in a way that you can’t really find words to discuss. And it haunts you,” Deveau says.
With no thought of eventually putting it onstage, he began searching for more information.
“I was floored by the fact that this hadn’t become a bigger news item, at least in the gay press.”
The images of Lawrence King that did reach the media, and began circulating on social networking sites, showed a small boy with a gentle face and warm brown eyes. Not infrequently, the images were described as “cherubic.”
But, as Deveau began to discover, King was more complicated than that.
What the images didn’t show was a 15-year-old boy who wore stilettos and makeup to school. A defiant boy, who would stare down the school bullies and taunt them back: “You know you want me.”
The more Deveau discovered about King, the more invested he became. “I actually became more enchanted with him because he wasn’t a martyr; he had dimension. He had flaws. He was not universally liked. He became a person rather than just a tragic moment.”
Skip ahead three years to Deveau’s elegant and complex response to that impossible-to-comprehend event. My Funny Valentine is a solo show that explores the lives of seven people forever altered by King’s murder.
In taking such a fractured approach — offering us seven different experiences of the same tragedy — Deveau escorts us through the emotional bog of human experience. Not all of the characters are sympathetic to King, the way we’d like them to be. We may prefer our tragedy to be black and white, with innocent victims and easy-to-spot villains, but life isn’t a comic strip.
“There is something enormously human and relatable and beautiful about all of them,” says Deveau.
Some of them may be more difficult to relate to than others. Ray, for example, is an angry, recently unemployed, working-class man who asks, “When the hell did we start letting the fags run the world?” But he’s also a single dad willing to do anything to keep his kid safe.
“There’s a lot in each character that resonates with me,” says award-winning actor Kyle Cameron, who will play all seven roles. “I’m not saying I think everyone will walk away remembering Ray with a smile on their face. But I’m excited to bring Ray to life in a sympathetic way because it’s always hardest to bring respect and care to a character who you might think is abhorrent.”
Bringing that same respect and care to the creation of each character, Deveau has uncovered their unique beauty and individual humanity. They have become flesh and blood, not merely footnotes to a murder. They are seven people trying to make sense of something that, ultimately, cannot make sense.