Jake’s Gift gives Stettler aplenty

Stettler Variety Showcase made an excellent choice in selecting “Jake’s Gift” last weekend.

Stettler Variety Showcase made an excellent choice in selecting “Jake’s Gift” for the entertainment pleasure of Stettler patrons last weekend.

Audiences were moved and left in awe of the stellar talent of Julia Mackey during a pair of full-house performances Sunday at the Performing Arts Centre.

Mackey was a “one-woman show” in Jake’s Gift, which she wrote of a Canadian Second World War veteran’s reluctant return to Normandy, France, for the 60th anniversary of D-Day. She portrayed all four characters of the script. Her instantaneous transition between characters was flawless.

The play’s main characters, at opposite ends of the age spectrum — Isabelle, an inquisitive 10-year-old French girl, and Jake, the crusty 80-year-old Canadian war veteran — were played with skillful use of voice and body language.

The minor characters, Isabelle’s grandmother and a visiting Ontario school teacher, were no less magical. Mackey masterfully weaved humour into the poignant story of a survivor’s guilt of not visiting the grave of his brother, a fallen soldier who died at Juno Beach 60 years before.

I have witnessed many tributes to veterans and services of remembrance, yet I found none to be more touching than this play, dedicated to all Canadian servicemen and servicewomen. There was not a dry eye in the house.

The timing of the Jake’s Gift presentation in Stettler, a week after the death of local war hero Jack Chapman, made the performance all that much more heartwarming.

Jake’s Gift was inspired by Mackey’s journey to Normandy in June 2004 for the 60th anniversary celebrations of D-Day. She had attended ceremonies, visited graveyards, walked the beaches and interviewed dozens of veterans who had returned there.

She described it as a life-changing experience that left her compelled to share it with other Canadians. Jake’s Gift is celebrating its sixth anniversary of being performed across Canada. The award-winning play has been bestowed multiple accolades.

With no fancy stage props or special effects, it’s the sheer genius of Mackey’s craft and her ability to deliver emotional authenticity that amazes. The actress truly has a gift — a gift that she shared with Stettler audiences.

She also gave to the community in a material way — all the proceeds from the sale of Jake’s Gift button sets were donated to the Stettler Poppy Fund. I would rate Jake’s Gift as a “must see” for all ages. Kudos to the Stettler Variety Showcase committee for bringing such fine entertainment to the community.