Rejection is a killer.
Lawrence “Larry” Fobes King, an eighth grader from Oxnard, California, was shot twice in the head in his school computer lab on Feb 12, 2008, by his classmate Brandon McInerney. A few days before he was murdered, Larry had asked Brandon to be his Valentine.
“I first encountered the case on Ellen,” playwright Dave Deveau says. “I turned off the TV and just started googling it. I couldn’t stop reading and collected all the press I could find.”
At the time, Deveau hadn’t intended to write about the tragedy, which was darker than his usual work. But his “total outrage and heartbreak” led him to pen My Funny Valentine, the acclaimed one-man show that made its Vancouver debut two years ago. Fixated on the innocence of the act of asking to be someone’s Valentine, he started to write as if “it was a demon that needed to be exorcised.”
Anton Lipovetsky plays multiple characters in My Funny Valentine, as each reacts to the shooting of an eighth-grade boy who dared to ask out another boy.
(Zee Zee Theatre/Brandon Gaukel)
Following a mistrial in 2011, Brandon McInerney avoided a retrial by pleading guilty to second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter and use of a firearm. His plea carries a sentence of 21 years in prison, with no credit given for time served or for good behaviour.
“I support Brandon being tried as an adult because I don’t think that this was a matter of the heat of the moment — I panicked and something happened and, oh my god, that situation and the moment got the best of me,” Deveau says. “He didn’t have a gun in his back pocket at the time. This was a planned, very strategic move.”
During the first run of My Funny Valentine, the case hadn’t yet gone to court, so for its remount, Deveau has reworked the script to include the sentencing.
“As soon as the mistrial happened and then the verdict, I rewrote the closing monologue, because ultimately [middle-school teacher] Helen is the only character who traces the entire timeline of the murder,” Deveau explains. “The closing monologue before was really about her being so caught up in the waiting game, the waiting to see how it’ll all pan out, that she goes a little off the rails, which is still the case, but for different reasons.”
The play stars Anton Lipovetsky, who was sent the script and called Deveau hours later, crying, saying he had to take on the roles. He portrays multiple characters with varying points of view because, as Deveau notes, “The case is more complicated than anyone expected. I completely disagree with at least one thing that every character says because the piece isn’t about me; it’s about us as a society reacting to something, and we’re all coming from a different place. I like to think that despite problematic politics, there’s still an innate humanity, that there’s a relatability, even if it goes against what we believe.”
My Funny Valentine is a reflection not only of the differing opinions on Larry’s life and death, but on gun violence, which, with a string of recent school shootings, including the Sandy Hook massacre that took 27 lives, is more topical than ever.
“You can’t kill someone without access to firearms,” Deveau says. “Sure, [Brandon] might have attacked Larry in another context — beaten him, even tried stabbing him, but it wouldn’t have been as simple as the murder that occurred.
“Do North American gun laws have anything to do with human rights? Not for a second. And that our governments haven’t stepped up to alter that insane notion and put systems into place to protect young people puts blood on their hands with every school shooting.”
Blood which cannot, nor should not, be wiped clean and forgotten. “I wrote this show to try and continue having a conversation,” Deveau says. “That’s why we’re bringing it back now. The case has ended, but what does that mean? We’re still all bogged down by the same baggage and the emotionally volatile state the case reared up in all of us, and just because someone’s been put away doesn’t make all that disappear.”