A deeply personal and emotional venture, Eleanor’s Story: An American Girl in Hitler’s Germany tells the true story of Eleanor Ramrath Garner, who grew up as an American caught in World War II in Berlin. Written and performed by Ingrid Garner, Eleanor’s granddaughter, it tells the story of how Eleanor’s family moved from America to Germany during the Great Depression, for hopes of a new life and a great job for her father, but instead got caught up in Nazi Germany as the war broke out. A struggle between her identity as an American in Germany, as her family faces hunger, fascist oppression, bombings, the final fierce battle to take Berlin, the Russian invasion and occupancy, and the horrors of war.
A true story made known by Eleanor’s autobiography, Ingrid has done a wonderful job to portray the atrocities, the struggle and the journey of her family through a one hour one woman show. Conceived in 2013 during her final year of college education in theatre in California, the show was written and acted by Ingrid with the assistance of Craig Tyrl as director and Richard Maritzer as technical designer and producer.
This show resonates so deeply and personally with the audience, as well as with its actress. Ingrid is to be commended on her fluid and flawless portrayal of every character in the show, moving seamlessly from parent to brother, back to confused, innocent little girl during the way, and all of the other characters she interacts with. Through accent, mannerisms, posture and her physicality, she transforms before us.
The show is dressed simply, with only two chairs, a trunk, a handful of props and a projector to convey seven years and a variety of locations. This is done well, as the show is a well-rehearsed machine, and while I am usually not a fan of using projections in any show, this does well to convey the place and time of Europe in the 1940s. The images projected are real images of World War II Berlin, interjected with real images of Eleanor’s family at the end of the show. While the projector doesn’t quit fill the space in the curtain it has been allowed, the chairs and trunk transform effectively from air raid bunker to a house in America, and it was supported by simple but emotive lighting. The use of colour, darkness and a few spotlights
Ingrid moves around the stage and her props with ease and grace, pausing simply before moving into the next scene. As a show run completely by her actions and energy, the show never feels flat, empty or awkward; it is always filled with careful contemplation, heart and history. Tyrl has directed the show with elegance and grace, and the technical support from Maritzer rounds out this gem.
Sound is an important element to this show; Ingrid is always clear and well enunciated, projecting her voice with ease throughout Chapel Off Chapel’s Loft Theatre. Paired with evocative and vivid sound effects, the audience is immersed in the show and it’s transitions. There are short snippets of Ingrid’s sweet, unwavering voice sung a cappella, in highly engaging and emotional moments of the show. At the start of the show the audience is also reminded that despite the seriousness and sensitivity of the show, it is okay to laugh at the funny moments in the show, and there are certainly a few.
The show has already touched the lives of people in Adelaide, Perth and around the world, and should not be missed during its short Melbourne run. Eleanor’s Story: An American Girl in Hitler’s Germany plays at Chapel Off Chapel until March 20.