by Lorraine Payette, written July 3, 2014
“We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when,
But I know we’ll meet again some sunny day…”
– We’ll Meet Again, sung be Vera Lynn
(Gananoque, ON) Bernière sur Mer lay tired and war weary as June 6, 1944, dawned in Normandy. Little did its residents know that this day of all days was to be remembered throughout time as D-Day, and that their tiny town would be identified as Juno Beach.
Jake’s Gift is a one-woman show that returns us to Juno Beach for the 60th anniversary celebrations of D-Day, for a look at remembrance and appreciation from a different perspective. For the Canadian forces, this was a place of great loss and tragedy, a place to rediscover old pains and sorrows and take the time to visit the final resting places of those who never returned, but for the residents – those who participated in D-Day because it was thrust upon them by fate and location – this is a time to rejoice. This is the anniversary of their great liberation from the Nazis, a glimpse of that future world made free.
Jake is one of four individuals brilliantly portrayed by Julia Mackey, playwright and performer. A crotchety curmudgeon in his 80s, he has returned reluctantly to look once again on the land that caused him so much loss and to visit the grave of a brother who meant so very much to him. While there, he meets ten-year-old Isabelle – bright, hopeful, and eager – who is delighted to meet a Canadian veteran. The two strike up a conversation which quickly grows to friendship as Isabelle showers her appreciation on Jake, and he begins to heal in return.
Also included are the minor characters of Grandmaman (Isabelle’s 70-year-old grandmother) and Susan (a Canadian school teacher). Each role is distinct and important, and Mackey slides seamlessly between her characters, giving each a distinct life while never losing sight of the story as a whole.
“Jake’s Gift is a love letter to all veterans, and is my way of saying thank you to a generation of men and women who sacrificed much for the greater good,” said Mackey in her playwright’s notes. “Every day, I become more aware of how quickly they are leaving us now. I’ve promised many of my 90-year-old boyfriends and girlfriends that I will keep telling their story long after they are gone. I hope to do just that.”
“I don’t like remembering World War II,” said Lois Creed, 89, of Dexter, NY. “I lived through it and watched as friends and family went off to be killed or permanently injured. Once was enough. But I’m very glad I came tonight. Jake’s Gift brings back the pain, but it brings understanding, too, something our younger generations need to learn and never forget.”
The play is not only a great gift of remembrance, but a shining light to lead us into a future filled with that hope for a world forever free. It is something to be seen by audiences of all ages and all nationalities with a message that everyone can truly appreciate.
“When I performed the show in Normandy, I faced right out to La Maison des Canadiens (the first house liberated on Juno Beach),” said Mackey. “In the play, it is Isabelle’s house. It was a very powerful moment for me. We will be staging one performance in French while we are here, and hope that we can reach everyone.”
In addition to the play, the Playhouse has opened itself up to other gifts of remembrance. Each Friday there will be a free post performance discussion. Speakers will include Jamie Swift (July 4), Dave Wyatt and Paul Cox (July 11), Dave Hueglin (July 18) and Barbara Brough and Dave Ingram (July 25). Writers, educators and historians, they each lend their unique voice to the Peace Quest presentation, Rethinking Remembrance. There are also exhibits in the lobby of the Firehall theatre available for public viewing from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily and two hours before shows. They are the Juno Beach Centre display, which includes a display of assorted information and artifacts from the cultural centre in Normandy and Canada’s own WWII museum, as well as a video recording entitled “What Freedom Means to Me.” In this short piece, Linklater Public School grade three student Tysen Koenders recites the speech he wrote about freedom.
“I am very excited to present this work from Julia Mackey – a gifted writer and performer who has been making a name for herself across the country and around the world with this heartfelt piece,” said Ashlie Corcoran, Artistic Director. “I think everyone will be deeply moved by this show, especially anyone who had a father, grandfather or family member who served in WWII.”
Jake’s Gift is one of joy, hope and remembrance – something not to be missed. To date, it has raised over $22,000 for RC Legion Poppy Funds throughout Canada.
“At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.” (Ode of Remembrance, Laurence Binyon)
Jake’s Gift plays at the Firehall Theatre from July 1 – 26, 185 South Street in Gananoque, Ontario. Running time for the play is 60 minutes. Show times are Tuesday through Sunday 8:00 pm, with matinees on Friday and Saturday at 2:30. There will be a French language performance of the play, please check with the theatre for date and time. Tickets are $32 for adults, $30 for seniors age 65+, $16 for students. HST is applicable to all ticket prices. Group tickets are available at $26 – $28 each including GST. This show is recommended for people of all ages. For more information, please go to http://www.1000islandsplayhouse.com or contact the box office at 613-382-7020.