For years, Aya Cash was a regular on the many off-Broadway stages around New York City. Her theatrical résumé includes plays by the likes of Bruce Norris (The Pain and the Itch), Nicky Silver (Three Changes), and Lucy Thurber (Killers and Other Family). Regionally, she appeared opposite Jeff Goldblum in Theresa Rebeck's Seminar in Los Angeles, in Matthew Lopez's Reverberation at Hartford Stage, and Zoe Kazan's Trudy and Max in Love at South Coast Repertory, among many other productions.

In 2013, Cash landed a profile-raising television job, Stephen Falk's You're the Worst, a Mad About You-esque romantic comedy (but darker and dirtier) about two self-destructive Los Angeles thirtysomethings who fall into a relationship after hooking up at the wedding of their mutual frenemy. For her work as Gretchen, a music publicist suffering from clinical depression, Cash has earned some of the best reviews of her career.

Before the show's fourth season begins shooting, Cash is returning to the New York stage and Playwrights Horizons, leading the cast of The Light Years, a new play by Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen of the downtown troupe the Debate Society. Spanning 40 years, the drama explores the little known history of the Spectatorium, a 12,000-seat theater designed for the 1893 world's fair in Chicago, a project that never reached completion. While Cash didn't know the history involved, the play did pique her interest. "I read it, and I said, 'I don't think I can do this, I'm probably going to ruin it, so I should probably say yes.'"

Aya Cash returns to the New York stage in The Light Years at Playwrights Horizons.
Aya Cash returns to the New York stage in The Light Years at Playwrights Horizons.
(© David Gordon)

Were you looking to do a play in New York again at this point?
I think I'm always looking for a play. It's just that opportunities haven't been coming up. The last play I did in New York was Lucy Thurber's Killers and Other Family [in 2013]. I actually got You're the Worst during that. Backstage, I got the phone call.

Did you know the work of the Debate Society before signing on for The Light Years?
I've been such a massive fan of Debate Society for years, since seeing Buddy Cop 2. I had gone to see it because Michael Cyril Creighton, who worked box office at Playwrights when I worked there last, was in it, and I was like, "Oh, I'll go see him in this little downtown play," and I had my mind blown. I have a feeling they just hired me because whenever they asked for money, I would send them $25. [laughs] I was such a fan that when I didn't have a lot of money, it was one of the theater companies I would try to give a $20 bill to when I could.

What was it that interested you about the piece?
It's just so different from the things I normally get hired to do. I am often offered roles that have high levels of snark and sarcasm, which is funny because the deadpan nature of some of their previous works is more what I normally do. It feels like we're all branching off in this play, Debate Society as well. They were interested in exploring new territory. For me, it was a no brainer.

Aya Cash in The Light Years, by Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen, at Playwrights Horizons.
Aya Cash in The Light Years, by Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen, at Playwrights Horizons.
(© Joan Marcus)

The history within the piece, of this massive theater that was erected in Chicago, never finished, and then torn down, is not commonly known.
I didn't know any of that. I sort of was completely ignorant to all this history, so it's very interesting. We're living in a time of technology. Our technology moves so quickly, and what I love about this play is creating the magic around electricity again, which is something we take for granted now. It was something that was so new, and so exciting, and so magical. [This play is] bringing our attention back to that and just reminding us of all the man-made magic in the world that we live amongst and take completely for granted.

Did it take a while for you to return to "theater actor mode" after having done television for the past few years?
There's always a slight adjustment. I have a little bit of amnesia about how painful it can be. I even said this going in, "Get ready to hate yourself six days a week." I forget the meditative aspects of doing theater, of repeating something every night. I don't want to get cheesy about it, but it's the closest I have to a spiritual practice. You show up and you enact this thing every night, and you have to be present, and when you're not, it all falls apart. I've enjoying that. But when you fail at it, when you get distracted, when something you think is funny doesn't get laughs, and how painful that is, it something that takes some getting used to.

What is it like to have a hit TV show now that's about to enter its fourth season?
I feel really lucky. People are always shocked when they ask me, "How's your show?" and I say, "It's great." Normally, people are apologizing for their television shows, and I'm like, "No, it's great, and I'm not gonna pretend it's not." It will end at some point. That's reality. Right now, I'm enjoying the fact that I have a great job with great people. They're a very supportive group. Desmin Borges will come see Light Years, Kether [Donahue] already came. Chris [Geere] is in England. We start shooting in June. I'm excited.

Chris Geere, Aya Cash, Desmin Borges, and Kether Donahue in a scene from the FXX series You're the Worst.
Chris Geere, Aya Cash, Desmin Borges, and Kether Donohue in a scene from the FXX series You're the Worst.
(© FX Networks)