Plan B’s Hildegard portrays a mid-millenium rockstar of the Catholic church


Emilie Starr as Richardis and Christy Summerhays as Hildegard

Thank you, Plan-B, for a truly wonderful evening of theater. Really, Virtue couldn’t have been more enjoyable – practically perfect in every way: Playwright Tim Slover’s excellent script; Jerry Rapier’s direction of a superb cast; Thomas George’s striking set; the excellent sound design by Cheryl Cluff.

This is a fantastic production. Question is how to make it available to more of our readers. The run is sold out. Yes, there is a sad little wait list (“We have never had a sold out performance where we haven’t been able to seat at least two wait listers.” TWO? C’mon, what’s that about? You’ve paid six bucks for parking and your odds aren’t better than that?). Sigh. Still there’s always hope of added performances and those are well worth checking for. (And you might find the coin toss of the wait list justifiable for this amazing play.)

The marvel that was Hildegard von Bingen could only be given a nod in a two-hour production. Born in Germany in 1098, she was placed in a Benedictine monastery at the age of 8 and given little education. Reportedly a sickly child, she nonetheless went on to become abbess of that monastery and later to found one of her own. She was a famed scientist, herbologist, theologian and visionary who communicated with the pope (who declared her prophecies authentic making her something of a rock star), and author of several books on medicine, natural history and the like as well as self-illustrated works about her visions. She also composed the Western world’s first opera; more than 70 hymns and chants, some of which are available on CD today. She was not formally recognized as a Catholic saint until 2012, when she was named a Doctor of the Church, one of only four women so honored.

Played by the always exceptional Christy Summerhays, this Hildegard has passion, fire and magnificent frenzied visions. Her “particular friendship” with the young, noble and complicated postulant Richardis (beautifully portrayed by the lovely Emilie Starr), the only one able to transcribe her envisioned music, is difficult for Hildegard to absorb, particularly since Richardis is the instigator of the relationship that grows increasingly passionate in nature.

Richardis has displaced the longstanding scribe Volmar, another excellent portrayal, this one by S.A. Rogers. His distress and disappointment at his sudden distance from Hildegard are manifest.

The performance of the evening has to be that of Jay Perry as Cuno, abbot of the monastery, who fluctuates between priceless comedy and fierce drama fluidly and convincingly. You marvel at his acting skills even as you laugh aloud at his delivery of a great line.


Jay Perry as Cuno, the Abbot, and S.A. Rogers as Volmar

All have first-rate voices which they use under Dave Evanoff’s supervision to perform transporting chants.

Thomas George did a remarkable job creating a simple monastery. Seating was unusually arranged with the audience on either side of the stage below. This was quite effective up to a point. With much of the action taking place on the floor, anyone sitting high in the center section or behind a tall person was unable to see what was going on below.

At the conclusion of the play, for one example, Hildegard carries aloft a red-stained rag. Those of us who couldn’t see what had occurred below didn’t know what that was all about. My companion and I puzzled over this all the way home. Where did she get it? What did it symbolize? Was it important?

Inquiring minds want to know.


Virtue by Tim Slover runs through Feb. 26 at Plan-B Theatre, Rose Wagner Center, Salt Lake City, Thursday and Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 4 p.m. and 8 p.m., Sunday 2 p.m. Tickets: $20; $10 student.

Also: Compline: A Celebration of the life and Music of St. Hildegard of Bingen, lecture by Dr. Margaret Toscano; Utopia Early Music performs rarely heard pieces by Hildegard during the service. Cathedral Church of St. Mark, Salt Lake City, Feb. 19, 7 p.m. Free.

A graduate of the University of Utah, Ann Poore is a freelance writer and editor who spent most of her career at The Salt Lake Tribune. She also worked for Salt Lake City Weekly and has written for such publications as Utah Business Magazine and Salt Lake Magazine. She is a contributing editor to 15 Bytes.

Categories: Theater

2 replies »

  1. In my viewing of Virtue, I interpreted the red-stained rag at the end to be the bandage that Hildegard had previously used on Richardis’ leg, after discovering Richardis wearing a chain around her thigh to mortify her flesh.

    Whether or not this was Tim Slover’s intended takeaway with the rag… great write-up of a truly wonderful play!

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