Backstage with "Dreamtime"
04/02/09 5:30PM By Neal Charnoff  Download MP3
(Host intro) The murder of two Dartmouth professors nine years ago shocked our region. Now, a local playwright uses those events as a starting point to explore and come to grips with the tragedy.
VPR's Neal Charnoff goes "Backstage" with "Dreamtime".
(Charnoff) In January of 2001, two popular Dartmouth professors, Half and Susanne Zantop were murdered in their Hanover, New Hampshire home.
Two teenage boys from Chelsea, Robert Tulloch and James Parker, were convicted of the murders.
The boys had been breaking into homes, attempting to steal ATM pin numbers. Their dream was to steal enough money to break out of small-town life and move to Australia.
Playwright Maura Campbell uses these events as the basis for her new work, Dreamtime.
In this scene, the boys, now called Willy and Noah, talk about making a new life in Australia.
"It looks like a desert. Well of course it's the desert, but that's just one part, there are mountains, and oceans, Australia is an island. I know Australia is an island, I'm not an idiot. Nicole Kidman's from Australia. Russell Crowe. The Gladiator. That's the kind of people that come out of there. So when we get our money together...we need passports. Okay that's nothing. How much will we need? I figure 10,000 each. Here's the thing, everything's backwards there, we're having summer, they're having winter, so we want to get there before they have winter, say in May? But we're graduating. Noah, you've got to think beyond that, it's just a ceremony."
(Charnoff) In a more ominous scene, the boys are looking over some knives they ordered online.
"Hey, let's try these out. You know the Miller's dog. Yeah, what. Let's get it. What are you talking about? It's old, it can barely walk. I'm not killing a dog. Look we have to know what these can do in case we ever need them. I'm not killing a dog, Willie!"
(Charnoff) Playwright Maura Campbell is originally from Randolph, Vermont. She had casually known the boys and their families, and like the rest of the community, was shocked by the murders.
She says she wrote "Dreamtime" not to exploit the real-life events, but to examine them.
(Campbell) "Violent endings are just that, they're violent, they're sudden. And they're needs to be discussion, they're needs to be healing, they're needs to be community, and I think that's' really what this play is about, the community experiencing this in a safe way."
(Charnoff) While the basic narrative of Dreamtime is based on real events, Dreamtime becomes an expressionistic fantasy, where time is deconstructed.
In fact, the term "Dreamtime" comes from a mythical aboriginal creation myth, where time doesn't exist. In the play, Noah and Willy come face to face with the professors following the murders. It's in the "Dreamtime" that they are given the opportunity to take responsibility for what they've done.
Joey Behlendorf of Essex Junction plays Willy, the character based on Robert Tulloch. He says the play has given him a new perspective on his peers.
(Behlendorf) "Instead of looking around my school wondering, oh I wonder who the Robert Tullochs are in my school, you have to understand, even though it's so hard to understand people like that and their perspective, we're not going to get anywhere unless we try to understand them."
(Charnoff) Behlendorf researched the story behind the murders, and believes that Robert Tulloch had some kind of mental disorder. But ultimately Behlendorf says he's no closer than that to understanding why the boys did what they did.
(Behlendorf) "You so badly want to say they didn't mean to hurt anybody, but that's not true, they did. And he must have really felt that he was bigger than the town that he was in and the situation he was in and things got out of hand."
(Charnoff) Adam Langdon of Essex plays Noah, who is based on James Parker. Langdon was shocked to discover that Parker shared his own interest in acting. He says the play conveys the message that we're all capable of committing horrific acts.
(Langdon) "I say that we're all capable of it because I'm reading Lord of the Flies in school, I just finished that, actually, and so I think they're kind of connected, because these boys find out that they're capable of everything, so are these boys in the play."
(Charnoff) Dreamtime is being directed by Todd Ristau of Roanoke, Virgina. He says he understands the delicacy of the subject matter, and that some people might say that to examine the horror is to glorify it.
(Ristau) "I take responsibility for that, but I think it's a risk that we have to take because some things need to be looked at. And what we're looking at in this play is not so much the documentary events that happened, but how we personally relate to events like that in our lives."
(Charnoff) Ristau says he would like audience to walk away thinking about three essential themes.
(Ristau) "I want them to talk about how precious life is, and how easily and quickly it can be changed, in a drastic way, and what we are and aren't willing to take responsibility for individually."
(Charnoff) Playwright Maura Campbell says she hope Dreamtime can provide audiences with some degree of relief, and closure.
For VPR Backstage, I'm Neal Charnoff.
Note: Dreamtime will be performed at Burlington's Waterfront Theater through Sunday.