When Montreal playwright and performer Julia Mackey went to France for the 60th Anniversary of D-Day back in 2004, she had no idea it would change her life as much as it did.
After spending a week interviewing Canadian, British and American veterans and Normandy residents, she wrote her one person show Jake’s Gift, started performing it at Fringe festivals in 2007 where it was an immediate hit, and she has been touring Canada with ever since.
The New West Theatre presentation runs at the Sterndale Bennett Theatre Oct. 1-11.
She returned 10 years later for the 70th anniversary.
“ It was very emotional to come back to the place which it is part of,” she said.
She even translated it into French and performed it twice right on the shores of Juno Beach.
“There was woman in the audience who spoke French and she was shaking her head throughout the show. Her family lives in the Queen’s Rifle’s House which I talk about and pointed to it out the window. Afterwards she came up to me and said ‘My name is Isabelle and you’ve just told my story,” said Mackey, who is still amazed by how the show has affected people.
“We had 30 people there that first night and 35 the next,” she said, noting her partner Dirk Van Stralen is directing the production.
“We played a theatre in Bayeux and the window was open so you could hear the waves crashing. And I could actually point to the house where the play takes place,” she enthused.
“ It is about a Second World War veteran named Jake who goes to Normandy for the sixtieth anniversary of D-Day to find his brother Chester's grave. He meets a 10-year-old girl, Isabelle, who is part of one of the families he helped liberate. She encourages him to find his brother’s grave. She helps him remember,” said Mackey, who plays all four characters in the play— the 80-year-old veteran Jake, Isabelle, the 10-year-old girl, her 70-year-old grandmother who was Isabelle's age during the battle and a 30-year old teacher.
“ I consider it to be a love letter to all veterans whether they are from the Second World War to Afghanistan,” she described.