Plan B: ‘Virtue’ (preview)

Plan B, a local theatre company known for exploring unique and socially conscious stories, will now tackle the story of Hildegard of Bingen in the new play “Virtue.” As an abbess during the twelfth century, Hildegard was known for her visionary spiritual experiences and skills as a composer.

Playwright Tim Slover initially discovered the work of Hildegard through her operas. He described her work as melodramatic in a way that was both weird and beautiful.

In many histories of Hildegard and her work, authors mention “The Richardis affair,” referencing when a young noblewoman by the name of Richardis arrives at the monastery. The two worked very closely, as Richardis had the skills to transcribe the musical visions Hildegard was having. Present-day understanding of the relationship between the two women comes primarily from letters wherein Hildegard begs for Richardis to return. She describes a bruised and broken love until Richardis’ death. “Virtue” examines the connection and conflict between their relationship and their religion, and whether or not the two can truly coexist. Even though Hildegard may not be a particularly familiar religious figure, her story relates to present day issues regarding faith and sexuality.

Dr. Slover has been a member of the Department of Theatre faculty for seventeen years and said that “Virtue” was perhaps his most ambitious project. “It’s a bigger piece for me philosophically than other things I’ve written, and maybe a little bit closer to the bone,” he said. “Here’s the question: Can you be genuinely moved and participatory in religion and genuinely iconoclastic about religion at the same time? I don’t know if audience members will find that an easy mix.”

Slover also worked very closely with the cast and creative team in this process. “Jerry Rapier is directing this show, and he is really brilliant at working with new material. He knows how to work with writers,” Slover said. “Especially the first week. I was there all the time and making changes throughout, because the other great thing about Plan B’s production is that it’s truly a talented cast, and that meant that I was able to see it not just in 3D as people were walking around, but also could see it really pretty quickly with the emotional weight that the play has.”

Slover is not the only connection to the University of Utah in this production. Thomas George, a faculty member in the Performing Arts Design Program, also designed the set. “This play will be in traverse, where there are audiences on two sides,with the action taking place in the middle,” Slover said. “And that turns out to be a really good choice for this because there’s a sense that there’s a community that has come to witness the events unfold.” U faculty Jesse Portillo and staff Arika Schockmel also worked on this production designing lights and props respectively.

“Virtue” opens on Feb. 16, and runs through Feb. 26. Tickets have limited availability, but a few are still available for purchase through Plan B at www.planbtheatre.org. The production is funded in part through the LGBT Community Endowment Fund of Utah.

Dr. Slover hopes that this production will act as a small step between religious communities as well as the LGBTQ community. “Believe it or not, I hope that this can be a small capillary action where these two groups can not just find common ground, but learn to love and respect each other and be enriched by doing so.”

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