Now making his Broadway debut in The Kite Runner, actor and writer Evan Zes has amassed a long list of stage and screen credits throughout his ever increasing “fifteen minutes of fame,” since graduating with an MFA from Harvard University. In the current production – a profoundly affecting stage adaptation of Khaled Hosseini’s best-selling novel of the same name, playing a limited engagement at the Hayes Theater – Zes is featured in the supporting roles of Ali and Farid, in which he combines his signature comedic and dramatic skills, along with his expertise at authentic accents, including segments of dialogue in Dari, as spoken in Afghanistan.
Known to fans everywhere for his hilarious and insightful one-man show Rent Control, the original autobiographical hit premiered at the 2016 New York International Fringe Festival, followed by a sold-out run in the 2016 Fringe Encore Series at NYC’s Soho Playhouse, where it won the awards for Best Solo Show and Overall Excellence. He has since performed the work at venues throughout the country, including Hartford Stage, Cleveland Playhouse, Westport Country Playhouse, Penguin Repertory Theatre, Centenary Stage, Mile Square Theatre, The Rye Arts Center, The Complex Theatre in Hollywood, and The Tabard Theatre in San Jose, California, and internationally at Teatro Jaco in Costa Rica and Teatro Elliniko in Athens, Greece.
Zes has also been seen in such notable Off-Broadway productions as Incident at Vichy at The Signature Theatre, Days to Come at The Mint Theatre Company, London Assurance, and Around the World in 80 Days at Irish Repertory Theatre, among many others, as well as in Europe, in Julie Taymor’s The King Stag at the Barbican, London, and Dream Play at the Moscow Art Theatre. His TV credits include appearances on the popular series The Blacklist, FBI: Most Wanted, Only Murders in the Building, and The Path.
I was delighted that Evan was able to speak with me on a day off from his busy eight-shows-a-week schedule to answer some quick questions about his thoughts, his background, and The Kite Runner.
- What three emotions did you feel on opening night of your Broadway debut?
Evan: Excited, terrified, and very grateful.
- Are there any qualities you share with The Kite Runner’s Ali?
Yeah, I think I’m pretty humble, as Ali is. Ali also limps, and I had a sports injury when I was younger where I hurt my knee, which helped to embody someone who walks with a limp.
- Have you ever flown a kite in real life?
We actually went to Central Park as a cast in June to practice, and it’s a lot harder than I thought. It turned out that I mostly went dragging it around behind me, so no, I guess I haven’t – but I tried!
- Do you prefer performing comedy or drama?
Comedy. I’ve mostly done that, but this has been a welcome change. It feels like less pressure.
- Is it more challenging to play a fictional character or yourself?
Myself. I like playing characters. In Rent Control, I have the most trouble with the Evan character because it’s me! I did stand-up for a few years; it’s putting your purist self out there, and that’s hard.
- What three words would you use to describe yourself?
Kind, funny, and relaxed.
- What’s your first creative memory?
That’s funny, I was just telling my fiancée! In kindergarten there was a talent show – I wasn’t in it – and there was a brother-sister act. He was peanut butter and she was jelly. All they kept singing was “peanut butter” and “jelly” over and over and over again, and the more they did it, the more hilarious it was. I thought that seemed like fun!
- At what age did you first discover your facility with different accents?
I used to imitate my family and friends growing up and I studied it in grad school, but I didn’t really do accents until I moved to New York and started auditioning. I had to do tons of accents, and usually quickly, and now there are so many shows that have diverse multi-character casting and it helps to have that ability. I guess I have an ear for it.
- What three things do you always have in your dressing room?
This is a recent thing, but my mother passed away last year and I always have a deck of cards that she used to play solitaire, which I touch before the show for luck. I also have a little painting my niece gave me as a gift for doing the show – a self-portrait of her under a rainbow – and my nephew gave me a cut-out of a butterfly. I think that’s very sweet and I keep them with me.
- What’s the most memorable reaction you’ve ever gotten from an audience member?
My Mom was seeing Rent Control and in the middle of the show her cell phone went off and kept ringing. She said, “Aw, shit!,” loud enough for the audience to hear. Everyone laughed, and I said, “That’s my Mom!” When I first started acting in the Bay Area, she would start hissing and booing when any of the other characters did something bad to mine.
- Do you have one all-time favorite line that you’ve delivered?
Right now in The Kite Runner, one of my roles is Farid, who is the driver for the main character Amir. When they confront the bad guy, he says, “So I guess I’ll wait for you in the car.”
- What or who has been the biggest inspiration in your career?
I keep talking about my Mom, but I’m going with her. She was one of the funniest people I ever met and she had people in stitches all the time. I grew up with that and that’s what I wanted to do. My Dad is also funny, but not on purpose.
- What do you do for fun when you’re not performing?
I love to play sports and to watch sports and to watch documentaries on sports. I also read a lot and watch stand-up comedians. I like what Steven Wright said: “In my spare time I like to waste time.” When I had my athletic injury in school, I didn’t know what to do, so I placed the energy of sports into comedy.
- What’s the best thing about being back live on stage?
It’s getting to be with the cast and that sports mentality of having everyone step up; it’s the camaraderie. And the greatest thing is hearing laughter.
- What is it about Broadway?
It’s what you want your whole life as a performer. Since I moved here 22 years ago, I’ve walked past these theaters and I never thought it would happen – but now it has!
Thanks, Evan, for making the time to talk and to let our readers get to know you better. Great to catch up, and congratulations on a stellar Broadway debut; I can’t recommend this show, and your performance, highly enough!
The Kite Runner plays through Sunday, October 30, 2022, at the Hayes Theater, 240 West 44th Street, NYC. For tickets (starting at $69, plus fees), call (212) 239-6200, or go online. Proof of COVID-19 vaccination is no longer required; masks are optional but recommended.