Julia Mackey plays dual roles in Jake’s Gift, the story of a World War II veteran who returns to France to visit his brother’s grave. – Submitted Photos
Morinville – There have been many acts that have crossed the stage at the Morinville Community Cultural Centre. Few of those acts have been plays. Fewer have been plays performed by a single actor.
Jake’s Gift is a multi-award winning Canadian play written and performed by Julia Mackey that will be performed at the cultural centre Jan. 24.
The play, which began touring in 2007, tells the story of a World War II veteran’s reluctant return to Normandy for the 60th Anniversary of the D-Day landings. Mackey plays both Jake and Isabelle, a precocious 10-year-old girl Jake meets while revisiting the shores of Juno Beach. The child’s inquisitive nature challenges Jake to examine the ghosts of his past, including the death of his eldest brother during the war.
Since hitting the road with the performance, Mackey has taken Jake’s Gift to more than 170 communities across the country, and in 2012 received the Betty Mitchell Calgary Theatre Award for Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Drama.
Interview with Julia Mackey
Morinville News: What can the audience expect from Jake’s Gift?
JM: Jake’s Gift is a one-hour, one-woman show that combines comedy and drama in the telling of one soldier’s journey back to Juno Beach to find his brother’s grave. We hope people will feel transported to France, and that they experience a roller coaster ride of emotions in the telling of one veteran’s struggle to reconnect with life. We hope it reminds them of their own family’s history, but mostly we want them to walk away feeling like they have been told a tale that will stick with them for a long time to come.
MN: Jake’s Gift is about the importance of remembrance. Each year we collectively visit our local Legion for a ceremony of remembrance. How important is it that we remember beyond that day each year?
JM: I think it is very important for our country to be aware of and remember the sacrifices that so many Canadians made over the last 100 years of war. Remembrance Day seems to have blossomed into more than one day over the years, and I hope that is something that continues. We may not place a wreath on a cenotaph every week of the year, but I think it’s important to take a moment to remember those sacrifices each time we walk by a cenotaph, even if just for a moment. We are so lucky to live in this country where we don’t have a war being fought in our backyards and while we do have our own problems, we live in relative peace and those sacrifices are directly connected to that peace.
MN: What was the initial reaction to the play when it premiered at The Sunset Theatre in 2006? Has that reaction changed or evolved over the past five years of touring?
JM: I was very moved by the initial reaction to the play. People laughed and cried and were on their feet at the end of it. There is nothing more satisfying as a writer/performer when you feel people have connected on a personal level to the story you are telling. And even though the script was a little different in segments back in 2006, I am amazed that the reaction from audiences over the past five years has been very similar to that first staged reading on August 18th, 2006. People tell me how moving they find the play, and how much they love how much comedy there is in it too. I think it is the universal themes of love, loss, and forgiveness that people connect to in the story, and because those themes are universal, you don’t have to have a connection to WW2 to relate to the story. All I wanted to do was share this incredible experience I had in Normandy at the 60th Anniversary of D-Day, and I feel lucky every day that we keep getting to share Jake’s Gift in communities across Canada.
MN: You play both Jake and Isabelle? Does one resonate more with you than another – and if so – why?
JM: I love both characters and what I’ve learned over the years is that they are very similar to each other, but just at entirely opposite stages of life. Somehow, they manage to bridge that age difference through their common quirks and tell-it-like-it-is personalities. If I had to choose one over the other, I have to say that I think Jake is my favourite character. He says what he thinks, when he thinks it – and he’s a curmudgeon who holds his cards close but learns to let go a little and embrace life again. And it’s that young girl, Isabelle, whose joie de vivre reminds him to do that with the time he has left. And he truly represents the people I wrote this play for as a sort of Love Letter of thanks.
Jake’s gift will be performed at the Morinville Community Cultural Centre Jan. 24 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $25.00 for general admission, $20.00 for seniors, and $10 for students with valid student ID. For more information visit www.morinvillecentre.ca.