I hated Evan Zes even before I entered the theater to see his solo show, entitled “Rent Control,” advertised as being about his true experiences making money off illegal sublets and Airbnb rentals on his rent controlled apartment. The hatred came from envy, and from anger at the behavioral sink that is the New York City housing market.
But Zes, as it turns out, is a winning performer — as funny and foul-mouthed as a stand-up and as skilled in storytelling as any Moth champion. He is also talented in mimicry, portraying some 30 characters in his engaging tale that is as much about the life of a struggling actor as it is about his adventures as a housing hustler. Add to that a self-deprecating persona that is as often disarmingly frank as it is funny. My hatred turned to delight.
Zes lucked into his rent-controlled apartment when he moved to New York in 2000 to become an actor, answering an ad on the Actors Equity Lounge bulletin board for a two-bedroom share on the Upper East Side. His roommate, Sonja, had been subletting the place for years from a woman named Jen Wolf, who had moved into the apartment in 1971, qualifying her for obscenely low rent (at least from the perspective of New York rents.) Jen Wolf had become sick of trying to make it as an actor in the city. “She became a lesbian and moved to New Zealand to open a clam shack.” But she kept her lease.
Soon, Sonja too got sick of New York, and left it. Jen Wolf agreed to sublet to Zes. “I decided Jen Wolf was my guardian angel.” Periodically, he prays on his knees, to her (projected) portrait.
Meanwhile, Zes was having very little luck in New York with his career. “One casting director told me that I was a character actor trapped in a young man’s body and to come back when I was ‘older, balder and much uglier.’”
To wait out that time, Zes began taking acting gigs out of town. This turned out to be the perfect arrangement, since he discovered he enjoyed the work, and it also meant he could rent out “his” apartment for increasingly longer and more lucrative rates.
This is not to say all this made him a happy person. “Coming back to New York after working out of town is like taking a lead pipe to the back of your head. You go from getting paid to do what you love and having a great social life to having no income, no structure, and no hope.”
Still, he was able to fashion a good living thanks to his hostelling hustle – until it all came crashing down when he was out-hustled by a master, an elaborate tale that Zes tells in microscopically thorough but riveting detail, taking up the whole second half of the 90-minute show.
Zes tacks on a happy ending. He tells us he is in a better living situation (which also inspires envy, although less anger.) Plus, “here I am finally performing in the Big Apple. And you know what, I would do it for free!…. Oh wait, I am!”
Under St. Marks
Remaining show times
|| THU 18 @ 2:30 || SUN 21 @ 9 || THU 25 @ 7 || SAT 27 @ 5:45