“You call blowing up a mountaintop ‘green’?” That’s what Mary desperately asks a power-company representative in writer-director Lesley Becker’s new play, Winds of Change, which has four performances this week at Burlington’s Off Center for the Dramatic Arts. The title is an apt one for a story based on the real-life conflict between wind-power developers and small-town residents, and often between neighbors, that is playing out on the larger stage of Vermont’s mountaintops in Lowell and elsewhere.
Montpelier-based Becker, a social-marketing coordinator for the Lamoille Prevention Campaign by day, is on the board of the Vermont Playwrights Circle. While Becker has been writing plays for more than nine years, her latest work straddles the line between theatrical entertainment and unabashed activism.
In Winds of Change, Mary (Karen Geiger) is the neighbor of Farmer Dave, who is thinking about leasing his land, including a beautiful ridgeline in Vermont, to a wind-power company. Played by Bob Carmody, Dave is a father of two whose wife has passed. His formerly profitable dairy farm is now a struggling chicken coop, and he is barely making ends meet. So Dave can’t help but say yes when a surveyor comes by, requesting permission to assess his land for the possible placement of 20 wind turbines.
Mary finds support in her efforts to combat the power company and the town office from Dave’s daughter, Deirdre (Emily George Lyons), and eventually from his teenage son, Johnny (Charlie Yarwood).
Becker stirs an additional, social subplot into Winds of Change: “generational alcoholism.” Every member of the farming family is challenged by addiction. Dave begins drinking by late morning, and twentysomething Deirdre helps herself to a beer at breakfast even as she scolds Johnny for underage drinking.
Deirdre’s boyfriend, Allen (Jayden Choquette), returns from Afghanistan relying on alcohol to help him cope with PTSD. After a family friend dies in a car accident caused by drunk driving, Allan and Deidre begin to sober up and see the toll that alcohol is taking on both Dave and Johnny.
The two plotlines are essentially unrelated; Becker seems to introduce the drinking problem simply to flesh out her story. And it does serve her main theme. Dave’s character is depicted rather thinly as a foolish drunk who is too lazy to read the eight-page contract of confidentiality, which forbids him and his children from speaking about the money he receives or the experience of having 40-story-tall towers on his once-pristine ridgeline.
These smaller drawbacks crop up frequently throughout the play, a constant stream of evidence suggesting the power company is manipulative and selfish.
Becker insists that her play is neither explicitly for nor against wind power, but her overarching message comes through: Developing renewable energy is important, but placing wind turbines in your backyard is going to alter your once-lovely countryside and affect your quality of life forever.
As real-life Vermont lawmakers debate placing a temporary moratorium on wind-power development in the state, Winds of Change turns, at least in one scene, from a fictive drama to a veritable public service announcement. In that scene, Mary makes an appeal against turbines at a Town Meeting. During the same gathering, power-company representative Irene (Mary Scripps) talks about the $12.5 million of revenue the town will receive if it allows the development of wind power.
In the end, Farmer Dave signs the lease for his ridgeline. “If I don’t make a deal with the power company, somebody else in town will,” he reasons.
Opponents of turbines on ridgelines will certainly find their views bolstered watching Becker’s play; those in favor might wish for a better-balanced script — one that more evenly addresses research on the benefits of wind power and the compromises potentially involved.
Meanwhile, as the turbines go up in Becker’s play, a number of consequences cause turmoil within Dave’s family and throughout their town. How long will the problems continue? “Until the wind stops,” Farmer Dave predicts.
"Winds of Change," written and directed by Lesley Becker, produced by In House Productions. Thursday, February 14, through Saturday, February 16, 8 p.m.; Sunday, February 17, 2 p.m. at Off Center for the Dramatic Arts in Burlington. $12. windsofchange.brownpapertickets.com