Returning to Victoria for the fifth time in as many years, Jake’s Gift has truly become a modern classic for the city’s theatre-going crowd. Surprising to probably nobody, Julia Mackey performs the piece as flawlessly today as she did during its premier at UnoFest in 2007.
Told over three days of the 60th Anniversary D-Day celebrations on Juno Beach, this solo show explores loss, regret and ultimate hopefulness through the war-time encounters of Jake, a reluctant veteran who has returned to Normandy for the first time in 60 years. His stumble down memory lane is prompted by the poking and prodding of Isabelle, an ambitious and fiercely loyal ten-year-old living on the beach today.
Mackey—under the sharp direction of Dirk Van Stralen—flips between Jake and Isabelle with convincing grace and precision. Her physicality with each character, particularly as an 80-year man with shaking hands and an endless sway, is as entirely believable as her French accent (though Jake’s Canadian prairie inflection might have a teensy New York twang to it).
At its tremendous heart, Jake’s Gift is a deceptively simple story; the content itself doesn’t bring anything particularly new to the tale of Canada’s participation in WWII. Instead, it reframes the fable of war alongside its decidedly human core. In an era where wars are largely fought by computers from airplanes—when the people caught in the fray are still very real but the soldiers rarely have to look them in the face—this charming, powerful story of humanity is a national treasure.
In one scene Jake says: “It means a lot that someone so young understands what we were trying to do.” With almost 70 years between us and D-Day—and only a handful of WWII veterans still living—Canada is lucky to have Mackey’s incredible gift for storytelling.
— Melanie Tromp Hoover