By George Perry
Julia Mackey is the playwright and solo performer. She is spellbinding as she switches from character to character. She believably portrays young French girl Isabelle, then, in the blink of an eye, becomes World War II veteran Jake.
Mackey travelled to Normandy, France, in 2004 for the 60th anniversary of D-Day. She interviewed scores of veterans. She listened to their stories, Canada’s stories. Most of the heroes were in their 80’s. It was clear that it would likely be the last time for such a ceremony. She saw the geography first hand and met the locals. She was inspired by the life-changing experience.
The result of the sacrifices made at home and abroad is a country called Canada. The result of Mackey’s amazing journey is a magnificent play called Jake’s Gift.
I contacted my friend Billy at the last minute, hoping he could join me for the play. He agreed, not knowing what he was in for.
At the beginning of the play, Jake is a shady character from Winnipeg. He enlists after the Canadian government dangles a new pair of boots and a salary of $1.10 per day in front of him.
Six decades later, Jake returns to Normandy and encounters the “pest” Isabelle. She won’t leave him alone, and that’s a good thing. I have a cat named Isobel who does the same thing. She’ll rub against my legs and meow and meow and meow.
Jake opens up to Isabelle. She is open and thankful to Jake. There is an incredible bond built between the two, and an incredible guilt. the young and the fragile, the local and the liberator. France was wearing a red and white blanket, a tapestry of red maple leafs, celebrating the Canuck return.
I loved the personal aspect of the play. Nowadays, we can all turn on our televisions and see the news network tickers, the numbers. The Japanese numbers go up and down like stocks. Ten thousand. Twenty thousand. Sell at thirty! It all seems a little distant and abstract. The relationship Jake and Isabelle share though, that’s real, that’s human. It is genuine and it is ageless.
Mackie takes an incredible human loss, a numbers game, and makes it human. War is not a video game and war isn’t about high scores. People died. Friends were lost. Promises were denied, human potential unfulfilled. Mackie makes that point clear and she makes it real, without talking down to us.
Another thing I love is that Jake’s Gift has been embraced by veterans and by schools. The human spirit doesn’t respect borders and it doesn’t respect age. Mackie somehow manages to remind us of this, in her short, essential and mesmerizing play.
We all stood up at the end, wiping our faces, pretending not to be crying. It was one of those standing ovations that was deserved, leaving both the performer and the audience enthralled.
Billy and I navigated our way to a local watering hole afterwards. We discussed the play while sipping exotic American libations. On the television, the hitter for our local team grounded out. Perhaps he should have flied out.
Jake’s Gift used very quiet sound and lighting effects. Perhaps they should have been stronger. It was a minor flaw, if indeed a flaw at all.
In the end though, the home team won, at the theatre, and at baseball diamond. Mackie pitched a gem!
I never need an excuse to visit Factory Theatre, but if you do, Jake’s Gift is a great one. It’s emotional, thought provoking and life-affirming. You’ll leave the theatre a better person than you were when you walked in.
If your eyes are dry at the end of this play, have a friend or family member check your pulse.
– Jake’s Gift plays until April 24 at Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst Street) as part of the Performance Spring Festival 2011
– Performances are Tue-Sat 8 pm, mats Sun 2:30 pm
– Ticket prices range from $25 to $35 and are available online at http://www.factorytheatre.ca or by calling 416-50-9971
– Julia Mackey in Jake’s Gift. Photo by Tim Matheson.