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D'Arcy Carden on making her Broadway debut in 'The Thanksgiving Play'

Carden, an Emmy Award nominee for The Good Place and star of A League of Their Own, returns to her roots as a stage actor in this delicious new comedy.

Gillian Russo
Gillian Russo

D'Arcy Carden is in a good place. No, not The Good Place — though she did play Janet in that hit NBC show and scored an Emmy nomination to boot. She's in a good place in her acting career, following up her sitcom success by starring as Greta Gill on A League of Their Own, the 2022 TV series adapted from the 1992 film of the same name.

Now, Carden makes a pilgrimage to New York for her Broadway debut — a dream she's held for years — in Indigenous playwright Larissa FastHorse's The Thanksgiving Play. Like Carden, her character is an actress from L.A. hired onto a live production elsewhere in the country. Unlike Carden, her character and three amateurs are creating a Native American-centric Thanksgiving play for kids.

They're also all white, which sets in motion FastHorse's satire of well-intentioned people's attempts at "wokeness" to a fault. "I couldn't write this play," said Carden. "Larissa is a genius — I'm at a loss for words."

When pressed for three, Carden named "performative, learning, and trying" as the words that best encompass the play. That description extends to Carden's experience doing The Thanksgiving Play alongside Scott Foley, Chris Sullivan, and Katie Finneran.

"We've had some pretty intense moments in rehearsal where someone has a realization about what we're actually saying and doing, and it can be pretty heavy," she said. But she added that it's also been "an honor."

Hear more from Carden about making her Broadway debut, her Thanksgiving Play character, and what she's learned from being part of the show.

How would you describe The Thanksgiving Play?

The Thanksgiving Play is about four really well-meaning people who are trying to put on a play about the first Thanksgiving. They're learning along the way what that actually means, but trying real hard to be the wokest one in the room. Sometimes they're trying so hard to do right that they're very much doing wrong. It's their journey to putting this play on and writing this play together and the things they learn along the way — or don't learn, honestly.

How does your character fit into the story?

I play Alicia in The Thanksgiving Play. I'm the actress that they brought in from L.A. to really make this professional. This is going to change everything, they're bringing in this amazing actress... but she's a little dim. She's not the brightest, but she does love acting. She is "just an actress." There is nothing more, nothing less.

How does it feel to make your Broadway debut?

I walk by the theatre and I see the awning and [my] picture, and I can't believe it. It's such a life dream of mine. I lived in New York for 10 years right out of college, and [Broadway] was the goal and the reason to come here. It's a competitive career. It's a competitive place. I felt that right away, and it was a dream that floated away into the night. For it to come back at this point in my life is really thrilling.

What can your TV fans expect from you on stage?

I love to not play the same characters again and again, so I haven't really played an Alicia, ever. There are things about her that I see in other characters I've played, but she's her own thing.

This is a very, very funny play. This is a straight-up comedy; we're laughing all the way through rehearsal. I have yet to get through a scene where I'm not laughing.

How is Broadway different than your screen work?

You have hours and days and literally months of rehearsal as opposed to 10 minutes before you do a scene for TV. In TV and film, there's so much solo work you have to do before you get to the set, and with theatre, you're figuring it out together. I'm so informed by the other actors and Larissa, the writer, and Rachel, the director, from moment to moment. [I'm] just an open book and a blank page ready to be drawn on.

The foundation of acting is the same, but they're completely different challenges and different muscles, literally and figuratively. When you're acting for the camera, you act for 10 seconds, 30 seconds, two minutes, five minutes tops at a time.

With this, we did a run-through and it's 90 minutes of straight acting — which I have done before, that's what my foundation is. I did plays all through college and when I moved to New York, but it's been a long time. It's like getting my sea legs — my turkey legs!

What makes this play so impactful right now?

It's going to make you think about things you probably haven't thought about before. I certainly thought about things that I hadn't thought about before when I read it and continue to every day in rehearsal.

Larissa's script is so smart and funny. The message is being fed to you through comedy, so sometimes it's so funny that it takes a minute to realize what is actually being said.

What have you learned from being part of The Thanksgiving Play so far?

We're still so early in this rehearsal process, but it's just about thinking beyond yourself, seeing further than your nose, and knowing there's so much to learn and so much to listen to. Maybe you don't have the right answer yet, and it's about being open to information and relearning things you thought you knew.

Learn more about The Thanksgiving Play on Broadway.

This interview has been condensed and edited for length and clarity.

Photo credit: D'Arcy Carden. (Photo by Margot Trouve)

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