He returned to Dillard as an instructor before being encouraged to move to Atlanta, where he says his career has really thrived. “This market is rich with theater, and the film and TV industry is buzzing and the buzz is getting louder,” he says.
In the four years he's been here, he's worked quite a bit, appearing in "In Love and Warcraft" at the Alliance Theatre,"Grand Concourse" at Horizon, "Macbeth" at Theater Emory and Actor's Express' "Stupid (expletive) Bird."
“I’ve been really fortunate,” he says. “The theater community has been generous and welcoming. That is not something that is found amongst actors all too often, but this theater community welcomed me.”
For “Father Comes Home From the Wars” director Martin Damien Wilkins, who contributed to a production of the play in Charlotte, N.C., and was an assistant to the prolific Charles Randolph-Wright on “Motown: The Musical” for Broadway, Cleaver was an obvious choice.
“The character’s name is Hero, and I think I needed a leading man type,” Wilkins explains. “Hero is not immediately introduced at the top of the play, but we learn quite a bit about him. So what I wanted was the kind of actor … that the moment he walked on stage, the audience believed ‘oh, yes, that’s Hero’ and I think Evan has all those qualities. In fact, when he walked into the room, my initial feeling, before he even started to audition, was ‘that’s Hero.’”
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“Father Comes Home From the Wars,” which runs three hours with two intermissions, is further bolstered by its strong ensemble as well as an unexpected element.
“The audience becomes the final character in the play, and they function as a Greek chorus similar to ‘The Odyssey,’” Cleaver says. “There are people who are more than happy to tell me what they think I should or should not be doing at any moment of the play, which I love, because, one, it means they’re engaged, two, they are actually, whether they like it or not, functioning like a chorus, and, three, it helps me as an actor drive and it gives me something to push against or push with depending on what moment of the play we’re in.”
And Actor’s Express’ cozy space only amplifies that intimacy, especially since Parks, notes Cleaver, has moments “where the actors (talk) directly to the audience.”
“Taking on a three-part Civil War drama/romance is a tough task,” Cleaver admits, “but that’s why I’m embracing it.”
“Father Comes Home From the Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3)”
Through June 11. 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays. $21.60-$37.80. Actor's Express, 887 W. Marietta St., Atlanta. 404-607-7469, www.actors-express.com.