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Strap-On

New Play Explores Controversial Conviction


The subject of this fascinating two-person show comes straight from the British tabloids. In October and November of 2015 Gayle Newland, 25, dominated the pages of the Daily Mail, the Mirror, and the Sun as she stood accused of rape for supposedly duping a female friend into having sex with her by pretending to be a man. Newland bound her chest, wore a swimsuit, lowered her voice, and, when called for, donned a prosthetic phallus in order to fulfill what she claims was a mutual fantasy that she was “Kye Fortune,” the young man she had invented and created a Facebook profile for in order to please and possibly fool her victim. When Newland was convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison by a British judge who did not buy her “we both knew it was a masquerade” defense, the sensation continued, as critics questioned the severity of the sentence and in some cases even the validity of the verdict.

Strap-On was written by the performers who played Gayle (Erica Flor) and her accuser (Madelyn Robinson). With assistance from director and co-deviser Jeff Mills and from lighting designer and stage manager Erin Davison, Strap-On premiered at the Hollywood Fringe Fest in June, and then got this second staging at UCSB in July.

The core of the show is a tasteful reenactment of Gayle’s construction of Kye, which we follow from its inception through to the explosive moment when her partner “discovers” that Kye is really Gayle in disguise. Without coming down strongly on either side, Strap-On succeeds in presenting both arguments about the facts, along with plenty of intelligent commentary, some of it from the transcripts of the trial, and still more from their own observations, which they voice as versions of themselves. The stage craft with which Flor and Robinson physicalize the tension in Gayle’s high-wire, no-net act of male impersonation, and the precision of the British accents that they continually put on and off throughout combine to create a powerful sense of the degree to which sexual intimacy can become a folie a deux.

Although it’s understandable that audiences would remain fixated on the fate of the real-life Gayle, who is still in prison, the play has more to offer than an account of an unusual criminal prosecution. What these great young actors bring to the stage in Strap-On is, after all, not so unusual. In fact, in many ways, it’s universal. The breakdown of the fiction of Kye Fortune, and the exposure of the deceptive strap-on, stands for that horrible moment, often so arbitrary, when any intimate relationship suddenly comes undone. By externalizing in the form of a narrative what so many people experience as a mysterious internal collapse of trust, Strap-On offers a new and powerful way to convey this experience on the stage.



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