Four years ago, the internet was flooded with sexual assault allegations against film producer Harvey Weinstein. Notable actresses accused him of engaging in inappropriate behavior in return for help in launching their careers.
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis premiered “The Gradient” on Friday, Oct. 8, 2021, at the Center of Creative Arts (COCA) Catherine B. Berges Theatre. The production will run through Oct. 24.
This resulted in a string of public apologies from him to his many victims. It also opened the doors for other sexual assault and misconduct accusations against other powerful men in Hollywood. With women telling their stories and holding abusers accountable, it sparked what we now know as the Me Too Movement.
Playwright Steph Del Rosso’s inspiration for her play “The Gradient” comes from the news and responses that circulated at that time. She felt inundated by public apologies from famous men and saw the trend of PR statements to save face.
But in her eyes the statements weren’t sufficient, she felt there was more to be addressed. Bothered by all that was happening, she decided to write a play.
Del Rosso’s work, “The Gradient” imagines a world where men accused of sexual misconduct can be transformed into responsible, law-abiding citizens.
It raises the question: can we mass-produce forgiveness?
“The play is grappling with this idea: what does actual accountability look like and how can we move beyond just a verbal statement of change to actual change?” Del Rosso said.
“Since it’s a play, I try to reflect the world as it is, but also on a tilt or through a fun house mirror. How can I take all these ideas and put them into this sort of dystopian slightly surreal comedic thing?”
“The Gradient” follows the story of five main characters: Tess played by Stephanie Machado, Jackson played by Yousof Sultani, Natalia played by Christina Acosta Robinson, Louis played by William DeMeritt, and clients one through eight played by Stephen Cefalu.
Amelia Acosta Powell, associate artistic director at The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, said the cast for the play is filled with diversity. Robinson, who plays the leader of the company, is currently pregnant. Although in the original work the character isn’t pregnant, Powell said it was intentional for her to be cast as an expectant mother.
“It's been amazing to play alongside her and embrace the fact that we have a Black woman on stage who is pregnant, portraying this powerful leadership role,” Powell said.
“Of course we know that in the real world there’s lots of powerful smart Black women who are leaders of businesses, companies, social ventures and who are also mothers. But we don’t get to see that a lot of the time. It's really amazing to have the opportunity to portray that out on stage. I think the room of artists who are making choices around the casting all agreed that it would be wonderful to embrace that storytelling without having to comment on it, it's just a simple fact.”
While the play’s subject matter is serious, Del Rosso classifies it as a dark comedy. She chose that category because she never wants to traumatize the audience. Her hope is for the audience to feel a spectrum of emotions with one of them being humor and laughter.
“All my plays, I try to approach the lens of comedy just because I think that when we’re laughing we’re open and I think that’s super important,” Del Rosso said.
“When you’re laughing you’re receptive and you’re more able to take in the story. What excites me about comedy is that there's so many iterations of laughter. You can laugh out of discomfort, you can laugh out of recognition and so I’m interested in those different dynamics.
“It can be kind of cathartic too to laugh. I hope that with some audience members there’s a sense of catharsis and a sense of ‘oh, I’m not crazy.’ I think sometimes laughter can be a vehicle for that too.”
“We are thrilled to produce the world premiere of Steph Del Rosso’s thought and soul-provoking psychological thriller,” Hana S. Sharif, artistic director at The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis said in a statement. ‘“The Gradient” explores the complicated duality of accountability and redemption with a dexterity that is sure to keep audiences buzzing long after the curtain closes.”
For tickets and more information about the play, visit The Rep’s website: https://www.repstl.org/.