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Aya Cash: On stage, she’s finally playing a competent character

Actress Aya Cash

Actress Aya Cash Credit: Getty Images / Matt Winkelmeyer

Aya Cash may have earned critical acclaim for playing characters that are depressed, deluded, maybe a tad demented, but she’s getting her act together as a sharp, savvy lobbyist in “Kings,” a new Off-Broadway play that pokes fun at — and reveals some complicated truths about — political life in Washington.

The comedy co-stars “Community” alum Gillian Jacobs (as a lobbyist facing a crisis of conscience) and Zach Grenier and Eisa Davis as politicians. Written by Sarah Burgess and helmed by “Hamilton” director Thomas Kail, it starts previews on Tuesday, Jan. 30, at the Public Theater, and runs through March 25.

Cash, 35, has recently been seen in Joe Swanberg’s Netlix series “Easy” and “You’re the Worst,” an unpredictable comedy series that started on FX with a small but loyal following — its fifth and final season airs on FXX later this year. She spoke by phone with Newsday contributor Joseph V. Amodio.

You’ve gotten accolades for playing Gretchen, the dark, clinically depressed character in “You’re the Worst,” but now, playing a lobbyist, well, you’re really the worst.

Yeah, it’s a different kind of worst. It’s been interesting to play someone who believes things I don’t. And helpful. We’re living in a time where it’s easy to dismiss people you don’t agree with as stupid or just plain wrong. It’s good to see where they’re coming from. That’s part of the reason I was attracted to this play. It’s also different from what I’ve been doing. I play a lot of people who are, um, disasters. Lauren [her character] is competent, confident, good at her job — so that was exciting to me, too.

It must be interesting — maybe exhausting — to be in such a topical show. You go home, read the headlines, and it’s like you’re back in rehearsal.

The play is about what we’re living right now. As an artist — which I always feel a little gross calling myself, I don’t know why — but as an artist I want to do things that reflect the world we’re living in. And help us to see the story we’re in from a new perspective. That’s part of why you become an actor — you want to show what it’s like in someone else’s shoes. It’s complicated to be a cop, to be poor, to work in a doughnut shop. This shows people working in Washington and the struggles they face — how you have to campaign almost immediately the minute you’re in office, if you want to stay in office. It’s insane. You go in with one idea, and yet your party has another. So it’s a very complicated world.

Switching gears a sec — I’m curious about what it’s like on the set of Joe Swanberg’s series “Easy.” There’s a lot of improvisation.

It’s totally improv. Joe writes an outline . . . with a few sentences of what happens in each scene, then you go to set and make it up. He’ll guide you, saying, “Oh, I like when you said this . . . yeah, yeah, you’re going down the right path.” But that’s it. It’s incredibly fun. And he seems to care just as much about the experience we have on and off set as he does the actual product. I mean — he loves food. I love food. We’re always all going off to these great restaurants and bars after shooting.

And how do you feel about this upcoming season being the last of “The Worst”?

I’m devastated — it’s truly the best job I’ve ever had. FX has been really good to us, honoring the show with a proper ending. That’s rare. It’s not how business models work. It sounds like lip service, but at FX I do think they’re art first. It’s not that they’re not a business — they make business decisions. But they’re very respectful of the people they work with. I’m just so glad we get to do one last season and . . . say goodbye properly.

Any clues as to what we might expect?

Nope. It’s all a big secret. I’m one of the people who wants to know, but [her co-star] Chris Geere likes being totally surprised.

What would you like to see happen for your character?

I mean, the things we hope for people we love are different than the things that make for compelling television. My hopes for her are that she gets healthy, gets happy, but that would make for a boring season. Gretchen is one of those characters — I got to do everything. Usually they ask you to stay in your lane . . . but those writers wrote me all over the place. I hope I find something else like that [in the future]. Or, you know, I can always open an antiques store. [She laughs.]

I imagine there are plenty of casting agents with other plans for you.

I hope so.

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