November 9, 2022
By Woodrow Kolomvos, Contributing Writer
As Canadians prepare to honour armed forces members during upcoming Remembrance Day ceremonies, a unique way to observe the sacrifices of the men and women who have served is coming to The Rose Brampton in the form of a multi-award-winning Canadian World War II drama titled “Jake’s Gift”.
Exploring the themes of guilt, legacy, and remembrance, the play follows the story of Jake, a World War II veteran who returns to Normandy, France, for the 60th anniversary of the D-Day landings. While walking the shores of Juno beach so many years after the tragic event, Jake meets Isabelle, a young, precocious child from the local village. The girl’s curiosity towards Jake and her natural charm begin to force the old soldier to confront his painful past, especially having to do with the death of his eldest brother, Chester.
Playwright Julia Mackey’s own journey began in June 2004, when, similarly to Jake, she visited Normandy, France, for the 60th Anniversary of D-Day. Motivated by a lifelong interest in Remembrance Day, Mackey attended ceremonies, walked the coastline, and spoke with the dozens of veterans who also attended the occasion. The experiences she heard from the veterans and the discoveries she encountered on her travels lead her to the development of “Jake’s Gift” in August of 2006.
Since its first performance in 2007, the play has been shown at festivals and theatres in over 250 communities across Canada, and internationally Jake’s story has been told in Washington State, the United Kingdom, and Normandy, France for the 75th Anniversary of D-Day, where performances in French and English took place at the Juno Beach Centre, and other communities and venues along the Normandy coast.
2022 marks the 14th year of touring for “Jake’s Gift” after a brief hiatus during the COVID-19 pandemic. What makes the play extraordinary is that every character is played by a single performer; Julia Mackey herself. Her solo performances have garnered much attention towards the play, as over its lifetime it has been nominated for seven awards and has won over fourteen, including awards for the best solo performance and best female performer.
Praise for the play and Mackey’s stunning presentation of its characters are plenty. In 2015, Patrick Langston of the Great Canadian Theatre Company called the show “…rich, true and deeply moving, a solo show that runs just 65 minutes but leaves you replete, wanting neither more nor less of the gift you’ve been handed.” More recently in 2018, Dave Breakenridge of the Edmonton Journal described that, “Mackey brings all of her characters to life with full-bodied realism, and even when she is bouncing back and forth between Jake and Isabelle, you can truly feel the emotion of each of them.”
Performances of “Jake’s Gift” also give back to the communities it represents. Partnered with The Canadian Fallen Heroes Foundation, a non-profit organization with the goal to create a memorial plaque for every Canadian killed in the line of duty from the Boer War to Afghanistan, Juno Productions donates a print called “Fallen Hero” to the Legion in each community the play is performed in. At performances, “Jake’s Gift” buttons are available for purchase, with 100% of the profits being donated back to the Legions of the communities that are performed in. To date, Juno Productions has raised over $50,000.00 for Poppy Trust Funds and Legions across Canada.
During a somber, but bittersweet month of gratefulness and reflection, “Jake’s Gift” is a fantastic option for Bramptonians who want to experience a new way of observing Remembrance Day.
For more information on “Jake’s Gift” tour dates, visit the official website. “Jake’s Gift” will be showing from November 10th to 12th at The Rose Brampton, tickets can be purchased here.