Jake’s Gift keeps on giving

An award-winning play about a Second World War veteran’s reluctant return to Juno Beach is back in Red Deer by popular demand.

Jake’s Gift, a 65-minute drama to be performed Tuesday, April 5, at the Red Deer Legion, has become something of a gift for its creator, Julia Mackey.

The professional actor and playwright is marking the 10-year anniversary of her one-woman show. “It’s crazy how popular it is. We keep getting calls for it,” said Mackey of B.C.-based company Juno Productions.

So far, Jake’s Gift has been staged in all 10 provinces and two territories. It’s runs in Washington State and England. Mackey even performed it in French while in Normandy for the 70th anniversary ceremonies for the D-Day landings in 2014.

Last year Mackey performed the play to a sold-out house at the Red Deer Legion and was invited to bring it back to the city.

Jake’s Gift won Best New Play, Best Solo Show, Best Drama, and Best Female Performer at the 2007 and 2008 Victoria Fringe Festivals, and has received five-star reviews and praise for Mackey’s performance in other cities.

The play follows an aging Second World War vet as he journeys back to France for the first time since the war.

Mackey morphs into four different characters, including that of an 80-year-old former soldier, a ten-year-old French girl and her grandmother, who was a child during the war.

British-born Mackey, whose own grandfather landed on the shores of Normandy on D-Day and survived (although he died before she was born), has always been fascinated by war-time history.

She attended the 60th Anniversary of D-Day ceremony at Juno Beach in 2004 and was deeply moved.

While at a Canadian cemetery in Normandy, she noticed a card left on the grave of a soldier named C. Hebner. It was decorated with a maple leaf. Inside, a child had written: “I think you are great for helping make Canada a peaceful country. Je me souviens.”

This touching inscription inspired Mackey to flesh out the life of a fictional character, named Jake, she had initially invented at a scriptwriting workshop. Mackey spun a story about Jake going to war off as a young man with his two brothers. One of the three, Chester, is killed during the D-Day landing, and his death affects his two surviving brothers differently.

This was how Jake’s Gift was born.

The play’s audience will learn that Marty goes back to visit Chester’s grave several times over the years, but Jake, who has survivor’s guilt, does not. After Marty dies of old age, Jake reluctantly decides to return to Normandy to deal with ghosts from his past.

Mackey said she can effortlessly transition between playing all four characters in the play, including a Canadian school teacher. After so many years, “they feel like real people to me…

“If it was initially awkward for me to play an old man, I’m not self-conscious any more. They feel like old friends because I’m with them every night,” said the Montreal-raised actor, who previously performed with Calgary’s Alberta Theatre Projects and Lunchbox Theatre.

Jake’s Gift, directed by Dirk van Stralen, will also be staged April 6 at Lacombe’s Terrance Ridge School at 7 p.m. Members of the public are welcome. Tickets are available at the school office or the door.

Tickets for the 6:45 p.m. show on April 5 at the Red Deer Legion are $20 from the legion or by calling 403-782-7183.

This show is presented by the Red Deer Legion Pipe Band. Doors open at 6 p.m. and items will be sold as a fundraiser for the legion.

For more information, please visit www.jakesgift.com.

lmichelin@bprda.wpengine.com