WHEN Maitland actor and director Zac Smith read the American play Dreamtime he was surprised initially to see that it had mentions of truckers with kangaroo heads and other Australian references.
But as he got further into the play he found that two of the main characters, 17-year-old boys in their final year at a United States high school, dream of going to Australia and living a more exciting life as they explore its mountains and oceans.
They come up with a plan to finance their escape by stealing money from homes. However, when they go into the house of husband-and-wife university professors, they are discovered by the occupants and kill them while escaping. The escape, though, is just physical. The boys keep dreaming about meeting the couple they killed. And their dreams also include references to the belief of Australian Aboriginals that the world was created by their spirit ancestors in the Dreamtime.
Maitland Repertory’s Reamus Youth Theatre is staging the Australian premiere of Dreamtime at a two-weekend season from Friday, March 24, with Zac Smith making his debut as a sole director. While researching the play, he made contact with its US writer, Maura Campbell, who based the story on a real crime that occurred near her Vermont home in 2001, with teens Jimmy Parker and Robert Tulloch murdering Dartmouth University professors Susanne and Half Zantop. Campbell had worked with the father of one of the boys and had encountered both the teens. And she had been an exchange student in Australia for a year in the 1970s and had personal experience of the landscapes the boys wanted to escape to. Campbell has stressed that she didn’t write Dreamtime to exploit the real-life events, but to examine them.
The youths in Dreamtime are Noah (played by Robert Lewis) and Willy (Conagh Punch), with Alastair Anderberg and Millie Chorlton as professors Joerg and Greta. Alex Simpson and Emma Ure, billed as Actor 1 and Actor 2, each play about 10 characters. The play’s action keeps moving between the reality of the people’s lives and their dreams of what they’d like life to be. Ironically, the female professor here is an expert on Russian literature and is marking student papers on Dostoyevsky’s novel Crime and Punishment when she and her husband encounter the boys.
Dreamtime is being staged in the round at Maitland Repertory Theatre, with platforms used for scenes of rock-climbing, the boys’ houses and the professors’ home. The play runs from March 24 to April 1, with performances on Friday and Saturday at 8pm and at 2pm on March 26. Tickets: $17. Bookings: 4931 2800; maitlandticketing.com.au.