October 12, 2011 | Andrew Steiner

A new play by a CAS professor explores divorce using humor, music and karaoke.

Debra Freeberg, professor of communication arts and sciences, describes her new play as a kaleidoscopic swirl of dream, nightmare, bureaucratic red-tape and musical parody. That is also how she describes women’s experiences of divorce and domestic violence.

A full-cast reading of No One Could Have Invented Our Lives: A Karaoke Fantasia will be performed at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 12, at the Ladies Literary Club in downtown Grand Rapids with a panel discussion to follow. The event is sponsored by Calvin’s communication arts and sciences department and presented by Safe Haven Ministries and the YWCA of West Central Michigan.

Stories of divorce

Freeberg began her project five years ago, carrying it through several iterations before bringing it to its current, final version. Originally, she intended to write about divorce from the perspective of four different women. During the drafting process, however, the character of Ruth and her struggle to escape and transcend an abusive marriage began to emerge as the drama’s true center. Though Freeberg and some of her close friends know of divorce firsthand, she says, “My story, fortunately, is not Ruth’s story.”

To tell Ruth’s story, Freeberg drew on news articles, personal anecdotes, popular entertainment, and quotations by divorced women and friends of the court. The structure of the drama itself is a reflection of Ruth’s shattered psyche:

“There is such a sense of fragmentation that occurs as you’re trying to deal with an overwhelming number of issues from the most prosaic things like changing your name on bank accounts, making sure you have bank history, making sure you’ve changed the beneficiaries on your insurance,” Freeberg says. “It’s the kind of thing people go through when they lose a family member to death. Divorce is a kind of death.”

Music and humor

For as much as the play focuses on the trauma of divorce and abuse, Freeberg’s play is suffused with humor, and much of that humor comes from the snatches of music sprinkled throughout the drama. The music includes such disparate songs as Gilbert and Sullivan’s “I am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General” to Helen Reddy’s “I am Woman (Hear Me Roar),” all rendered as parody. Freeberg believes that humor, along with friendship and faith, are essential to surviving abuse and its long fallout.

To embody the humor of the play, Freeberg rallied a comedic cast. Their members include former colleagues, current colleague Dave Ellens and three members of the alumni improvisation troupe River City Improv: Rick Treur, Russ Roozeboom and Tracey Kooy. (Some of the cast played roles in Freeberg’s first production at Calvin.)

Tickets for No One Could Have Invented Our Lives are $10 in advance, $15 at the door and $5 for students. 

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