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Why David Zayas Loves Doing 'Brooklyn Laundry'

By: Andy Lefkowitz
Date: Mar 06, 2024

The Cost of Living Tony nominee returns to Manhattan Theatre Club in a new romantic dramedy


Even though David Zayas shows off his considerable charms as the flirty owner of a local chain of laundromats in Brooklyn Laundry, currently running Off Broadway at Manhattan Theatre Club (MTC), there's a melancholy quality to his character, Owen, whose life hasn't worked out the way he planned. As he cautiously opens his heart to a last chance at love, you can't help but root for the guy, the only male character in this world-premiere rom-com-drama, written and directed by John Patrick Shanley (Doubt, Moonstruck, Danny and the Deep Blue Sea).

Usually recognized for his TV work (Dexter, Oz, myriad guest spots), Zayas actually cut his teeth in theatre. He's a longtime member of LAByrinth Theater, appearing in the company's original productions of Jesus Hopped the A train and Our Lady of 121st Street opposite his wife, Liza Colón-Zayas, and last year he earned a Tony nomination for his anguished performance as a guilt-ridden widower in Cost of Living on Broadway. Acting is his first love but his second career: as a young man, the Puerto Rico-born, Bronx-raised Zayas spent almost 15 years as a New York City police officer before segueing to showbiz.

TDF Stages spoke with Zayas about acting opposite Saturday Night Live alum Cecily Strong, his love of leaning in to uncomfortable emotions and how LAByrinth helped him go from the NYPD to MTC.

Andy Lefkowitz: Initially, Owen seems like such an optimist. But as the play goes on, it's clear he has trouble maintaining relationships.

David Zayas: Well, it's interesting. In a way, he's a broken man. He's one of those people who has a big heart but sometimes doesn't know how to navigate it the right way. He's the kind of man who tries to be open and tries to be positive, but if something goes wrong, he could go off the deep end. I think overall he's a good guy who hasn't had a lot of opportunities love-wise in his life.

Lefkowitz: You and Cecily Strong, who plays Owen's unlikely love interest Fran, have incredible chemistry. Did you have to work for it?

Zayas: It kind of came naturally. She's very focused, and I think listening to each other and listening to the words that John wrote helped. She's a wonderful partner to have on stage and I think that shows.

Lefkowitz: When Owen and Fran go on their first date, he brings a bag of her lost laundry that he spent hours tracking down. It says so much about him!

Zayas: That moment is great because it is kind of odd that he would bring it to a date in a restaurant. But that's who Owen is. Would David bring laundry to a date? Probably not. But Owen would and that is one of the great moments that I am able to do on stage. Owen has a need to connect, a need to provide, a need to please.

Lefkowitz: Both Owen and Fran have grappled with their share of rejection. Owen specifically talks about the disloyalty and dishonesty of his ex-fiancée. His fear of being hurt runs deep. Was it challenging to navigate those emotions?

Zayas: I find it challenging to navigate all feelings in that place. It's a place where you as a person don't like to go because there's trauma, there's stress. But that's part of the beauty. That's part of why I love doing this because you have to go there. You have to go there as this person and you have to deal with those challenges and those fears.

Lefkowitz: What I love about John Patrick Shanley's work is that he balances comedy with more serious themes. As an actor, are you attracted to that complexity?

Zayas: Well, first of all, John Patrick Shanley, he's a legend and that's what he does. His stories are based on love and death and life and passion and contradictions. He's got so much of that in all of his work, and this one is no different. He's a brilliant master in transporting that onto the page and articulating it while he's directing. When I first read Brooklyn Laundry, I was like, I have to be in this because it's so relatable, but in a unique way that's clever and funny and potent to the soul. I am ecstatic to be a part of it.

Lefkowitz: I know that you grew up in the Bronx, just like Shanley. Did you two bond over that?

Zayas: The sensibility of surviving in the area where we grew up, or just observing the people and the characters of where we grew up, is very similar for us. I think that he was a little before me, but it wasn't nice and pleasant in those areas in the Bronx in those years. So yeah, there is some connection where we can relate to being from the same borough.

Lefkowitz: You have a rich history with LAByrinth Theater Company as does your costar, Florencia Lozano. How have your experiences with the ensemble impacted your career?

Zayas: LAByrinth prepared me to work on stage. Basically, all the plays I've done with them have been about the multiethnic place where we grew up: New York City. I've worked with some of the best throughout the years—Stephen Adly Guirgis, Philip Seymour Hoffman, my wife, Liza Colón-Zayas. We've done so much together. We've explored so much and it has really prepared me as an actor, as a performer, to be able to find the truth that I try to convey in scenes.

Lefkowitz: Before you became an actor, you were a police officer, correct?

Zayas: Yes. I was a police officer right over where MTC is. Probably about eight years into being a police officer I started taking acting classes. I was interested in it, and then I got into LAByrinth and we started doing plays. And one thing led to another. I wish I could map out a journey of what happened, but it was just a bunch of events that I was able to capitalize on, and that builds up to where I'm at now. So, LAByrinth had a really big effect on how I approach the work, how I approach my career, and also the lifelong friends, like Florencia, that I've maintained over the past 30 years.

Lefkowitz: Brooklyn Laundry marks your return to the NYC stage following your Tony nomination for Cost of Living, another play produced by MTC. What do you enjoy about working with this particular company?

Zayas: I mean, when you say MTC, you're talking about a culture of excellence in the theatre. Everything they put out, it's like they're not wasting anything. They pick good projects, they have great performers, great designers, great directors, and it's always going to be an important, very good play that they put up on Broadway or their other two theatres. I like being in that culture because why do this unless you're going to do it in an excellent manner? And MTC is the pinnacle of that.

Lefkowitz: What do you hope audiences take away from Brooklyn Laundry?

Zayas: I hope it will make them think about life, about opportunity, about death, about love, about rejection. John has an amazing, brilliant way of expressing that. You've seen it in his other plays, you've seen it in his movies. It's about what people do and how people act—to get some kind of recognition of their feelings. That's Brooklyn Laundry.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.


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Andy Lefkowitz (he/him/his) is a contributing editor to Broadway News and a production editor for Random House. Follow him on Instagram at @andylefkowitz. Follow TDF at @TDFNYC