Jake’s Gift presented by Lunchbox Theatre
Monday, October 24 – Saturday, November 19
Jake’s Gift has modest roots. Since starting as a tiny production at Intrepid Theatre’s Uno Festival in Victoria, B.C., it has grown into a cult theatre phenomenon. Playwright and performer Julia Mackey and director Dirk Van Stralen have toured the show across Canada to fringe festivals, schools, legions and other small venues, garnering critical acclaim, honours and awards across the country. Now, Lunchbox Theatre is hosting the critically acclaimed play’s 500th performance.
The production tells the story of Jake, a Canadian Second World War veteran who reluctantly returns to Normandy, France for the 60th anniversary of the D-Day invasion. While wandering the shore of Juno Beach, Jake meets Isabella, a very forward and intelligent 10-year-old girl from the local village. Her curious and endearing nature provokes Jake to face some of the skeletons in his closet — particularly the wartime death of his older brother.
The play was conceived in a rather remarkable way. In 2003, Mackey was participating in a mask and character workshop in Vancouver and felt drawn to the mask of an old man. She created a character with unique body language and voice and called him Jake. At the time, she didn’t know Jake would be a war veteran, but her intuition told her he felt guilty for not visiting the grave of his brother in Normandy. When an opportunity arose to attend the 60th anniversary of D-Day in Normandy, Mackey took it.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” she says, “but something told me I needed to go and see this for myself.”
It proved to be a life-changing experience. She walked the shores of Juno Beach, spoke with numerous veterans who shared their stories, and attended an emotional ceremony on the beach. Before long, Mackey knew the character Jake needed to be a war veteran and soon the story of his journey back to Normandy took shape.
“I walked away from the ceremony very moved and I knew that this was a story I needed to share with other Canadians. I just wanted to thank that generation of Canadian soldiers for what they did.”
Director Van Stralen points out that young Canadians may find it difficult to appreciate the sacrifice of war veterans because the war didn’t happen in their country, but he hopes they realize the importance of remembrance.
“The legacy of remembrance isn’t so concrete for young people in Canada,” he says, “but for the people of France and other European countries, it’s far more real. Their lives were directly affected by the war and the young people there realize that.”
Mackey stresses that Jake’s Gift is more than a war story and she wanted to show the importance of human connection.
Partners in work and life, Mackey and Stralen developed the show together. With their visions united, they created a show of simplicity rather than spectacle. The power, according to them, is in the authenticity of the story, not in fancy light and sound.
Jake’s Gift is a one-person show, and Mackey plays all four characters herself. The duo spent a lot of time determining each character’s unique physicality and voice. Their hard work paid off. Since the first production in 2007, Jake’s Gift has been a full-time job for each of them.
“It was never our goal to accomplish anything,” says Stralen. “We’re delighted to tour the show and we’re thrilled that the show has won so many awards, but we’re mostly interested in the purity of performing the show itself. We love touring together, we love performing the show, and that’s where our heart is.”
Read More: http://www.ffwdweekly.com/article/arts/theatre/a-gift-stemming-from-tragedy-8329/