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Theater Review: The wind energy battle continues

The power of the wind energy controversy is continually growing in Vermont, but in Lesley Becker’s new play, “Winds of Change,” it’s downright war.

In House Productions, Becker’s own community theater troupe, is presenting the premier production of this troubling and, at times, touching drama at the Off Center for the Dramatic Arts through today. Friday’s performance in Burlington revealed an intense and sensitive performance that would appease wind energy foes, and possibly enrage supporters.

In an anonymous Northeast Kingdom town, wind energy and the electric company have arrived. Bob is ready to lease his failing farm to the electric company. But, his daughter Deirdre and their neighbor Mary angrily object, feeling that it will destroy the land and local environment. Bob’s high school-age son Johnny isn’t sure.

Representing the electric company is Irene, who is offering a great deal of money, but with a troubling caveat: The entire family must sign a confidentiality agreement, requiring them to remain silent not only about the financial terms but of any effects of the wind turbines on their property or their lives.

Meanwhile, the death of a friend of Deirdre’s in a car accident, and the return of her friend Allen from Afghanistan reveal that the family has a substantial drinking problem. This and the changes the wind turbines have made on their lives begin the downward spiral to tragedy.

Becker’s main characters – the family and Allen – come across as quite authentic, if a little condensed, so it is easy to care about them, and thus get involved in the drama. Irene, the electric company representative, and Bill, the town meeting moderator, though, are somewhat caricatured, giving the play a decided political slant.

Although Becker has researched the effects of wind turbines, the play never acknowledges that wind energy has support outside those who benefit directly financially. This limits the dramatic effectiveness of the play, making it more of a political statement than a piece of art that results in questions.

The production, directed by the playwright, was an intriguing, even fun, mix of basic amateur and quite sophisticated effort. Bob Carmody was absolutely authentic as Dave, giving the family patriarch real dimension as he tries to do the right thing. Emily George Lyons gave credibility and sensitivity to Deirdre, as did Karen Geiger to neighbor Mary as well.

There was an unnecessary attempt at a realistic set; simple set pieces would have been more effective. Conversely, the production benefited from professional dramatic lighting by Jeffrey Salzberg, one of Vermont’s best-known lighting designers.

Although “Winds of Change” tries to do too much, it dramatizes some of Vermonters’ biggest challenges.

In House Productions presents the premier production of Lesley Becker’s “Winds of Change” Feb. 14-17 at the Off Center for the Dramatic Arts, 294 N. Winooski Ave. in Burlington. The final performance is at 2 p.m. today. Tickets are $12 at the door; for information, go online to www.offcentervt.com.