Theatre review: Jake’s Gift – lest we forget

In an era where the meaning of the poppy and Remembrance Day seems to diminish each year, Jake’s Gift, Julia Mackey’s touching tribute to our fighting men (and women), is just what this country needs to remind us of the ultimate sacrifices made.

Julia Mackey in Jake's Gift at Vancouver's Pacific TheatreSimplicity is the order of the day in this one-woman show in which playwright Mackey (pictured right in a photo by Tim Matheson) also performs.  The primary characters in this short 70 minute piece, all played by Mackey, are 10 year old Isabelle, the young French girl who looks after the graves of some of the fallen Canadian soldiers responsible for liberating her country and one of the survivors, Jake, who has returned to Normandy for the 60th anniversary of D-Day.  Making brief appearances are Isabelle’s grandmother who has helped keep the memory of the war and the sacrifices made part of her granddaughter’s life and Susan, a Canadian teacher who has brought paper maple leafs with messages from her students to lie upon the graves.

There is no doubt Mackey is playing at our emotions in throwing the two generations together, but it never feels artificial; it is clear Mackey has a deep connection to the story and we feel it is genuine.  Moving quickly between characters she gives each of her characters a distinct voice and distinct physical mannerisms.  Both Isabelle and Jake flirt with stereotypes of the precocious kid and the gruff octogenarian, but Mackey doesn’t let them to stay there for very long and as an adult playing a child goes, this is one of the best I have seen in a very long time.

Ultimately Mackey’s underlying message, lest we forget, remains powerful to the very end.  At one point Jake talks of having done nothing special; Isabelle comes to know differently.  Through her play and her characters, Mackey helps us to know differently as well.

3 1/2 of 5 Stars Jake’s Gift

Written and performed by Julia Mackey.  Directed by Dirk Van Stalen.  A Pacific Theatre / Juno Production presentation.  On stage at Pacific Theatre through April 16, 2011.

Visit http://www.pacifictheatre.org for tickets and information.

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