Eleanor's Story: Home is the Stranger
Gilded Balloon Teviot
Home is the Stranger is the second part of the true story of Eleanor Garner, a German-American girl who spent the Second World War trapped in Berlin. That period is chronicled in Eleanor's Story: An American Girl in Hitler's Germany, which has been broadly toured, and graced the stages of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, to much acclaim.
Picking up in 1946, this sequel of sorts tells the equally moving tale of her family's repatriation to New York, or indeed, most of her family. As the US government would only pay for the American-born members of her family to return, Eleanor's mother must remain in Germany with the two youngest children until such a time as the family can afford to send for them. Thus begins the first of Eleanor's struggles with the return to America as, without her mother, she finds herself rudderless, suffering from PTSD and woefully underprepared for American high school life in the 1940s.
This companion piece to the original play, both adapted from Garner's published memoirs, is a markedly different play from the original. The stories are more fractal and disparate, although the focus is far more on Eleanor's sense of disconnectedness with her peers and her own shame and horror at the War and her German ancestry. As well as this, there are occasional flashbacks to the war years, as well as the horrors of living in postwar Berlin under Russian occupation.
It's a decent successor to the lauded original and Ingrid Garner shows herself again to be both a captivating raconteur and actress as she plays out every part in the story with a different timbre of voice and subtle change in physicality. What is lacking in the play is a solid emotional through-line as, without the ever-present threat of death, the disparate vignettes lack cohesion. And as the piece winds towards the close, the end feels unexpectedly sudden; although closing on a significant emotional beat, it's not a wholly satisfying conclusion.
Reviewer: Graeme Strachan