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Fayetteville playwright hopes to break ‘The Cycle’

November 11, 2018

In this Oct. 30, 2018 photo, Terry Sanford teacher Brian Mayers performs a section of his play called "The Cycle" during a portrait session in Fayetteville, N.C. Mayers' play was produced in New York and performed during the United Solo Theatre Festival. His wife, Toni Henderson-Mayers, directed the play. (Melissa Sue Gerrits/The Fayetteville Observer via AP)

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (AP) — Through a one-man show he recently staged at a New York play festival, Terry Sanford High School theater teacher Brian Mayers hopes to help break the cycle of crime and hopelessness.

Titled “The Cycle,” the play centers on three men in various states of violence, despair and addiction. It was staged last month at the United Solo Theatre Festival, directed by Mayers’ wife, Toni Henderson-Mayers.

And despite the bleak themes presented, there is a message of hope, which the playwright said he tries to convey in all of his work.

“I write for the lesser,” said Mayers, 55. “Anybody that’s bullied, anybody that’s been abused, neglected — the lesser.”

Mayers, who is from Newark, New Jersey, is in his first year teaching at Terry Sanford. Before that, he worked in the business office at Fayetteville State University, he said.

Local theatergoers may be familiar with his work — he performed in Cape Fear Regional Theatre’s “Othello” and “The Night of January 16th.” And, for more than a decade, Mayers has played the part of Jacob Marley in the annual downtown Fayetteville Dickens Festival held the day after Thanksgiving.

But Mayers said he gets the most satisfaction from writing.

“I love writing. It’s so therapeutic,” he said. “You can escape. I dream of the day I can just write.”

“The Cycle,” which Mayers performs himself, centers on three men.

One, named Pink Pickle Pin Peterson III, is a chronic alcoholic. Another, named Saleek Saleem Ali-Mean Ali-Brak, is a heroin-addicted pimp. The third is a young man in prison nicknamed Rob Steal.

Through each of the characters, Mayers weaves a theme of the importance of having a strong father figure in the family unit, and conveys a Christian perspective, he said.

“This is about fatherlessness and when the father’s not in the home, how devastating that can be,” Mayers said.

Before the play was accepted at the United Solo Theatre Festival, Mayers said he staged it at juvenile detention facilities in New Jersey.

He remembers putting the play on for an audience of Crips, Bloods and other gang members who laughed at some of the dark characterizations. When he asked them why at a question-and-answer session after the play, they told him they had seen just as bad or worse behavior in their own lives.

Mayers drew from some of his experiences for the play, which he wrote in 2004. He said in 2001, he was falsely imprisoned in a case of mistaken identity when he lived in Pennsylvania and spent weeks in jail before he could clear his name.

The harrowing experience taught him about life in prison and the intricacies of the legal system.

“I went to court eight times. I had to go back and forth, back and forth,” he said. “I was just devastated.”

Mayers said he began taking theater classes in Pennsylvania after being exonerated. He moved to Fayetteville in 2006 after finding a job here as a teacher’s assistant.

While he loves teaching and the impact he has on young people, Mayers said he finds a unique avenue for expression in writing.

“I always say writing is my pulpit,” he said. “I have so many stories I want to share with other people, because you don’t know what that person is going through.”

Mayers said the hour-long “The Cycle” was well received at the United Solo Theatre Festival, where he said about 120 one-man plays were performed over a seven-week period.

“I had to come back twice to do curtain calls,” he said.

Staged on 42nd Street in New York’s theater district, United Solo’s goal is to present original, one-person works that “reflect upon political, sexual, economical, religious and social diversity,” according to its website. In addition to the plays, United Solo offers master classes with actors such as Oscar winner Olympia Dukakis.

Mayers said he is awaiting the awards announcement for the theater festival in mid-November. He said he would like to stage the play locally, especially at alternative schools where he feels its message would resonate. Eventually, Mayers said, he would like to shop the play to outlets such as Netflix and Hulu.

“It’s a challenging show, it’s a physical show, but at the end it’s so rewarding,” Mayers said. “I don’t think it’s a play to just do. I think you do it where there’s a need.”

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Information from: The Fayetteville Observer, http://www.fayobserver.com

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