Grateful Gabriolans will remember Jake’s Gift

Bruce Mason, Gabriola Sounder - January 2007

When it was announced that the actress/playwright would be returning for an unprecedented three encore performances of her one-woman, four-character play, Jake’s Gift, at the Gabriola Theatre Centre, she requested that Julia Mackey also appear at the island’s elementary school.

Teacher Rose Topp saw the world premiere on Saturday, January 13th and says she was “deeply moved.”

Veteran Peter Eastick, chair of the Gabriola Cairn Committee, saw the final performance on Sunday afternoon, January 28th and he too was deeply moved and wanted others to also experience what he had shared.

In the meantime, the Sounder had the pleasure and privilege of sharing time with the remarkable young woman - who has created a work that speaks directly to the heart of a nation and one of its defining and most tragic days - around a dining table, backstage, in a school hallway and at Raspberry’s before she took ferries back home to Vancouver, as overwhelmed at what had happened as the audiences who shared her extraordinary experiences.

Ms. Mackey is on the brink of national stardom while her work becomes permanently etched in the Canadian psyche. It is highly unlikely that those who shared Jake’s Gift - from grade threes to elderly soldiers – will ever forget it, or that it was performed in public for the first time here on the island.

Jake’s Gift has also been selected as the inaugural play of the No Bells and Whistles Players in Vancouver (see “Mr. Holland’s Next Opus,” page ?) and will be performed in Victoria and Toronto. But that’s just a start.

What is almost as amazing as the acting tour de force and lovingly and cleverly crafted script is the overriding sense of audience members that others must also see it with an emphasis on must that approaches zeal.

H.J. Pat Barron, D.F.M. FLT./LT. RAF (Ret.) 1936 – 46 was among those who read about Julia and her play in a Nanaimo newspaper and came to Gabriola. Decked out in coveralls and medals and carrying a book he has written about his experiences, he was moved to tears usually reserved for Remembrance Day.

Joining Mackey and Eastick for a photo outside the theatre, he vowed to contact veterans and spread the word.

Within three days Eastick had good news for Mackey. Copies of the January 29th issue of the Sounder had been circulated to all branches of the Royal Canadian Legion in the Lower Mainland, focusing attention on a February 11th performance of Jake’s Gift in Vancouver. It should be quite an evening.

Peter has also strongly suggested that the federal Minister of Veterans Affairs see Jake’s Gift during a visit to the city on February 24th. “An excellent opportunity for you to put on your wonderful play,” he told Julia.

He has also been in touch with two legions in Nanaimo and one in Lantzville and they are showing great interest. “The overall consensus is that they would be most interested in having you perform either at a central place in Nanaimo or even at each of the branches.”

“I am a firm believer in the fact that all World War II veterans, and other interested parties, should see your play,” Eastick told her. “And I am looking forward to a second helping at some time!”

Buoyed by the response of island audiences Mackey is equally determined to share her unforgettable work with school children and her first taste of that at Gabriola Elementary was invaluable.

There wasn’t enough time to answer more than a few questions and hear several comments but Topp has asked them to write them down and she will forward them to Julia who will welcome and study the feedback.

Antony Holland – who served in Egypt during WWII - introduced her, saying that what they were about to see, was, in his opinion, the best Canadian play he has ever seen. “It has educated me about the war in Europe and what it means to Canadians,” he added and noted several times during the school performance: “She’s got them!”

On the way out, teacher and soccer coach Glen Murphy commented on Mackey’s physicality, that she not only perfected an elderly man but could move in the blink of an eye to a 10 year-old girl and back again.

It was “good,” “sad,” “funny,” “believable” and “based in reality” including the odd “damn” from Jake said some of the students.

Topp reports that in a show of hands, every student from Grade 3 through 7 said they had been thinking about it and wanted to know more about Canada’s role in WWII and the sacrifices made for their freedom..

Mission accomplished.