NEW YORK– Actor/Writer Evan Zes is a San Jose, CA-native, but his experience renting an apartment in New York City inspired his funny, at times poignant, one-man show Rent Control. The official breakout hit of this year’s Fringe Encore Series 2016 at SoHo Playhouse, the play was extended for an additional four weeks through November 12.
The life of a struggling actor is not as glamorous as one might expect and for those of us in the tristate area who know the rising cost of real estate will easily relate to the drama that ensued for Zes living in a rent-controlled apartment on the Upper East Side. The often fraught world of subletting is revealed along with the lure of easy riches through Airbnb, the peer-to-peer online marketplace allowing people to rent rooms in residential properties short term.
As Zes notes on the Rent Control website, “Something crazy happened to me about a year and a half ago that could only happen in New York. It involved my rent-controlled apartment on the Upper East Side. Every time I go out to dinner or to meet some friends at a bar, within 3 minutes I hear everyone talking about their living situation, because everybody who lives in New York has an apartment story. Well, this crazy thing that happened to me, as it was happening, I thought to myself, ‘Pay attention, cuz one day this is going to make a great story. It’s not a great story now because it’s happening to me and I want to die. But someday…’ I didn’t die. Now, I’m glad that crazy thing happened to me because I wrote a play about it.”
Having been told he needed to be older, fatter, uglier, and balder in order to land the character actor roles he seems destined to play, Zes has created an entertaining play to tide him over until those future roles begin pouring in. He demonstrates an impressive range as he portrays nearly thirty characters in the play based on his real life. Zes had found the Holy Grail of situations for a struggling actor through the rent-controlled apartment. The rent for the two-bedroom was $900 a month, a fact Zes only discovered when “roommate from hell” Sonia moved out and revealed that she was not on the apartment’s lease. The woman who was on the lease had moved to New Zealand years before and had never returned to New York. Zes renovated and rented out the apartment in a money-making scheme that allowed him to pursue his dream of acting. Zes built up his resume with theatrical roles across the country while renting out the New York apartment and building up a considerable nest egg in the process, unheard of for most New York actors. If, and here we insert a spoiler alert, it seemed too good to last, you would be right.
The play takes a dramatic, yet still funny, turn as the pitfalls of the scheme are revealed. Zes’ skill as a storyteller keeps the audience riveted as his world unravels. The sold-out crowd appreciated his angst and his humor in retelling this cautionary tale.
Zes spoke with The National Herald, noting that Rent Control was extended twice and is the last show still running out of the 210 or so that ran during the Fringe Festival in August. The success of the show has led many to share their own apartment stories with Zes. He said that at times, he feels like he’s running a real estate support group.
Now living in Astoria, Zes observed, “It’s nice hearing Greek spoken in the street… it reminds me of my childhood.” He also mentioned the family roots from Athens on his father’s side and the island of Kythira on his mother’s side. Zes’ father, Dr. Tikey A. Zes has directed Greek Orthodox choirs since 1953 and has been the director of the St. Nicholas Choir of San Jose, CA since 1971. Dr. Zes has been guest conductor and workshop clinician for the Greek Orthodox Choir Federations throughout the United States and has composed/arranged extensively for the services of the Orthodox Church, including 5 liturgies (one in English). In addition, he has written numerous arrangements/compositions for chorus and piano based on Greek folk and popular songs. In 1976, he received the Patriarch title of “Offikion” (letter of patent) from the Ecumenical Patriarch Demetrius and was conferred as “Archon of the Great Church of Christ” for his distinguished work in Church Music. As his son pointed out, the 88-year-old Dr. Zes continues to travel, compose, and conduct.
The final two performances of Rent Control take place on November 10 at 7PM and November 12 at 9PM at the Huron Club of the SoHo Playhouse, 15 Vandam Street in New York City. More information is available at sohoplayhouse.com and evanzesrentcontrol.com