By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – The audience at the Morinville Community Cultural Centre had their emotions pulled in opposite directions for an hour Thursday night during Jake’s Gift, a multi award-winning Canadian play written and performed by Julia Mackey.
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 played both Jake and Isabelle, the latter 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, Chester, during the war.
Mackey’s ability as a playwright to shift the audience’s emotional spectrum from loud laughter to the wiping of tears was dwarfed only by her ability as an actor to instantly transform from a 10-year-old girl to an 80-year-old man in a convincing manner.
The play covered a lot of ground beyond its basic plot: the survivor’s guilt of the titular character in losing his brother during the war; the respect and appreciation for the Canadian soldiers who fought during the Second World War to liberate France that exists to this day; the ability of an old soldier in his final days to relive his past through the inquisitive nature of a child.
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. It was the latest of 11 awards Mackey and her play have won, including Best of Fest at the 2008 Edmonton Fringe Festival.
The Jan. 24 Morinville show was preceded with a performance from Lord Strathcona’s Horse Pipes and Drums. Mackey concluded her performance with a presentation to Royal Canadian Legion No 176 President Gerry Morrow.
Above left: Playwright and actor Julia Mackey sits backstage prior to the performance. Photos of the actual play were not permitted.