There's a sense of opposition built right into Thomas George's set for Plan-B Theatre Co.'s production of Virtue
, a world-premiere from local playwright Tim Slover. With seating on both sides of the Studio Theater space, one side of the set represents the room of Hildegard of Bingen (Christy Summerhays), prioress at a German abbey in the 12th century; the other represents the office of the abbot, Cuno (Jay Perry), and the Scriptorium often occupied by another monk, Volmar (S. A. Rogers). Those forces will collide as the central conflict in Virtue
: between a faith based on authority, and a faith based on personal experience and conscience.
Inspired by the life of Hildegard, whose visions and liturgical songs were compiled in the Scivias
opens with the arrival at the abbey of Richardis (Emilie Starr), sister of the archbishop and a woman claiming that the need to do extreme penance for an unnamed sin. Eventually, her training in music leads her to become scribe to Hildegard as her visions begin to include songs, and their relationship becomes intimate, and inevitably complicated.
Slover's text sets up Cuno as a fairly obvious villain of the piece, his ambition and worldliness agitating against Hildegard's insistence on the purity of her visions. Perry does fine work with a character who's mostly a walking manifestation of hypocrisy, but Rogers' Volmar provides a more complex antagonist in his jealousy and inability to process his feelings for Hildegard.
It's the central relationship between Hildegard and Richardis that provides the richest emotional content, as the two women wrestle with the collision between their own feelings and the teachings of the Church regarding same-sex attraction. Summerhays is typically superb in a role that combines an unapologetic earthiness with profound conviction, while Starr nails the tortured soul who is convinced that she's damned for the only kind of love that makes sense to her. Slover might make his antagonist too easily dismissed, but Virtue
still delivers a powerful testament to feeling what is right, rather than accepting the version of the right that someone else is trying to sell you.