Jake’s Gift profound and touching tribute to our war veterans

By on November 10, 2014

This Remembrance Day, do yourself a favour – make plans to see Jake’s Gift when it comes to a community near you.

This astonishing one-woman play which debuted in 2007 will make you laugh, cry and, most importantly, give you rare insight into the enduring emotional toll of D-Day on the young soldiers who lost both their friends and their innocence 70 years ago at Normandy, during the pivotal Second World War event.

Playwright and star Julia Mackey was inspired to write the play after she accompanied Canadian veterans to France for the 60th anniversary of D-Day in 2004. Her astute observations of those veterans are reflected in the creation of Jake’s character, a composite of a frail old man who is all crust on the outside and a burning cauldron of repressed emotions on the inside.

In the story, Jake is convinced to return to the beaches at Normandy for the first time since the end of the war. We learn that he lost his eldest brother Chester during the invasion, and had never returned to visit his grave – a decision he deeply regrets.

He encounters a 10-year-old girl, Isabelle, whose wide-eyed enthusiasm for life seems to render her immune to Jake’s cranky rebukes. Eventually, Isabelle’s joyful persistence breaks down Jake’s defences and they bond as friends: she, the grateful offspring of those who Jake and his peers rescued from Nazi tyranny; he, drawn to her youthful charm.

Playwright and star Julia Mackey was inspired to write the play after she accompanied Canadian veterans to France for the 60th anniversary of D-Day in 2004
Isabelle tells Jake that she and her friends take care of veterans, but it’s only later that we learn what that means. As fate would have it, Isabelle tends to Chester’s grave.

Through their conversations, we learn that Chester was an aspiring musician, and Jake feels profound sadness that his brother never had the opportunity to see his talent fully realized. That sets the audience up nicely for the heartbreaking conclusion, when Isabelle receives a gift from her old friend, who has returned to Canada.

Mackey has had ample opportunity to refine her performance; this production has been staged in more than 200 communities across Canada in the past seven years. Practice has indeed made perfect; Mackey shifts between the two main characters (and occasionally a third) so effortlessly, it is possible at times to forget that there is just one person on the stage. At one moment, she is an ebullient child, fully of joie de vivre; a second later, she is a trembling old man, carrying the burden of six decades of regret and sadness. The execution is near flawless.

As Mackey reminded the audience after the performance, we have recent reminders in Canada of the sacrifices our soldiers make so that we enjoy our freedom. To use her words, Jake’s Gift is a love letter to those soldiers, and a gift to all Canadians so they will pause to remember.

For more details, go to http://www.jakesgift.com/

Doug Firby is Editor-in-Chief and National Affairs columnist for Troy Media.


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