Zee Zee Theatre’s My Funny Valentine has good intentions, but doesn’t fit together

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In the recent aftermath of the Florida school shooting, Zee Zee Theatre’s remount of its one-man play, My Funny Valentine is hauntingly timely. Zee Zee Theatre, under the direction of Artistic Director Cameron Mackenzie, decided to remount this play to mark the 10th anniversary of the tragic killing of 15-year-old Lawrence King on Valentine’s Day, 2008. While the pieces of the play don’t quite come together, the intentions are noble and this is an interesting interpretation of the event and its aftermath.

Back in 2008, King had asked another boy in his Oxnard, California junior high to be his Valentine. The next day, the boy shot and killed King. My Funny Valentine, written by Dave Daveau and directed by Mackenzie, is a series of post-event testimonies from various individuals affected by the shooting. The characters comprise of a female classmate, a reporter who covered the story, an 11-year-old girl who received King’s kidney, both a male and female teacher, and the father of one of King’s classmates.

 Conor Wylie stars in My Funny Valentine. Photo credit: Dahlia Katz

Conor Wylie stars in My Funny Valentine. Photo credit: Dahlia Katz

In an impressive feat, all the characters are played by Conor Wylie, who does an excellent job transforming from one character to the next. The point of all of this is to see the story from different viewpoints. And not all of it is sympathetic towards King. For example, the father of one of King’s classmates expresses his resentment towards King’s attraction to his son, and the male teacher argues that on a regular basis, King was a distraction to classmates and something negative was bound to happen to him.

Other perspectives see things more sympathetically. Most notably, this includes the female teacher who becomes consumed with fighting for justice on behalf of King.  

The issue I have with the play is that it would have been nice if each monologue progressively advanced the story. That did happen during the first half of the show, but I believe after the section featuring King’s classmate’s father, there wasn’t really any new information. And there seemed to be a lot of repetition. The exception being, the female teacher giving us updates on the legal proceedings of King’s killer. But it’s asking a lot to have the audience sit through the remainder of the play just for those facts.

The use of the female teacher is odd, since she gets three different monologues throughout the show and everyone gets one. And while she kept us updated on the legal proceedings, there isn’t really anything else she has to offer that is worth sitting through. Not for three monologues.

The order of the monologues could also be reworked for a smoother flow. The show begins with Wylie portraying the lead reporter on the story. Then there’s a blackout and when the lights come up again, we see him playing a female classmate of King’s, writing in her diary and expressing her adolescent frustrations to the audience. I assumed the show had flashbacked to when King was alive, and that Wylie was playing King.

Sure, Wylie mentions numerous times that his character’s name is Gloria. But the show also reveals that King wore make-up and heels to school, so perhaps he also went by the name Gloria. It’s not until the next monologue (when Wylie plays a female teacher), that the audience clues in on what’s going on.

 Wylie portrays one of Lawrence King's teachers. Photo credit: Dahlia Katz

Wylie portrays one of Lawrence King's teachers. Photo credit: Dahlia Katz

The set is also a bit of a mystery. The centre set piece appears to be a memorial to King in someone’s basement, complete with creepy stuffed animals and odd ornaments. I wonder if there could have been a creative set concept that could have assisted with adding to the story while being more aesthetically pleasing.

For me, the costume design also doesn’t work. Wylie dons sweat pants, with an open button up shirt with a white t-shirt underneath. It’s a weird costume choice that doesn’t serve a neutral palette for all the characters.

While I applaud the intentions of My Funny Valentine, it doesn’t come together to effectively tell the story. It comes across as a mishmash of info that is longing to be pieced together in a cohesive storytelling vehicle.

Zee Zee Theatre presents My Funny Valentine at the Dance Centre until February 18, 2018. For more information, visit Zee Zee Theatre’s website.