Sally Struthers laughs a lot when she talks.
Not the girlish giggles one might remember from when she played Gloria Bunker Stivic on television s All in the Family, but big booming laughs, often at her own expense.
Currently starring as Mother Superior in a tour of Nunsense, which visits the Valentine Theatre Wednesday and the Niswonger Performing Arts Center in Van Wert on Nov. 12, Struthers chatted by cell phone recently while waiting to cross into the United States from a Canadian leg of the tour.
The hardest part of the tour is riding on the bus every day, Struthers said.
I had to trick my mind. I said to myself one day, I said, Sally what is it that you re enjoying about this? Hmm. Let s see. I m enjoying the people I m working with very much, and I m enjoying doing the show every night. OK, what are you not necessarily really enjoying? The riding on the bus and the packing and the unpacking in the dressing room and the hotel room every single day.
OK, so what can we do to fix this Sally? I know. I ll tell myself I m traveling with these people and doing the show for fun and for free and I m being paid to pack and unpack and ride on the bus. And it works!
And there s that laugh.
Although it s been 30 years since Struthers left All in the Family, she is still remembered for playing Archie Bunker s daughter, but she hasn t been resting on those memories.
I m still standing. Didn t I retire? No I didn t retire, she said semi-indignantly. I ve just been on TV for the last seven years for Gilmore Girls. And while she was appearing in a recurring role she played neighbor Babette Dell on the WB/CW series, she was also appearing in a recurring role in CBS Still Standing, playing the manipulative mother of series star Mark Addy.
She s been in Grease, The Odd Couple, and Annie on Broadway, and has appeared in several movies and on the stages of regional theaters, playing Dolly Levi in Hello Dolly, Miss Mona in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, and Jeanette Burmeister in The Full Monty.
Now she s in Nunsense and is loving it.
The plot revolves around the Little Sisters of Hoboken, whose cook accidentally poisons most of the order (five of them didn t eat the vichyssoise; they were off playing bingo). The survivors coffers are pretty low, so, led by Rev. Mother Regina (Struthers) they decide to put on a variety show in the school auditorium to supplement the burial fund. Among the acts are tap and ballet dancing, comic routines, and some funny surprises.
You know, it s not about being a Catholic nun, this show. This show s about being an entertainer. The nuns happen to be wearing habits and veils and wimples and scapulas, but we re showgirls, Struthers said
Nunsense made its off-Broadway debut in 1985 and ran for more than 3,600 performances, becoming the second-longest-running off-Broadway show, behind The Fantasticks. It s been translated into 26 languages with more than 6,000 productions worldwide.
Struthers attributes those numbers to two things: The humor isn t mean, and creator Dan Goggin, an Alma, Mich., native, has stayed hands-on with the show.
Danny Goggin good-spirited is his middle name, Struthers said.
This is the man who has written all of the Nunsenses (there are currently five sequels) and has a whole cottage industry going and is very well off and you d never know it. He lives and he acts very humbly. He comes to the theater and if somebody s costume is wrinkled he gets out the ironing board, and if somebody s shoes are breaking apart, he takes them back to New York and has them repaired.
He s a marvelous human being. He reminds me of a Keebler elf, always is jumping around and making sure everybody s happy and taking care of everything. It s amazing.
Struthers, who is now 60, got her start on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in 1970, playing a resident comedian the show s various songs and skits. She went on to The Tim Conway Comedy Hour, then became part of the All in the Family cast.
It was, she said, a real eye-opener for her.
I was stunned in the rehearsal hall every week when we would sit around the table on Monday and read the script out loud. I grew up in this lovely neighborhood in Portland, Ore., with a lovely family and neighbors and I didn t know about bigots. I had never experienced bigots, and so Carroll O Connor would read Archie s lines and I would lean over to Rob Reiner and say, What does that mean? I d never heard those slurs and epithets before.
In the show, which ran on CBS from 1971 to 1992, O Connor played Archie Bunker, a prejudiced, outspoken dock foreman who lived in Queens, N.Y., with his good-hearted wife, Edith, his daughter, Gloria, and her husband, Mike Stivic, an unemployed college student who was not only liberal and educated, but he had a Polish background, to boot.
The show mixed harsh reality with humor as Archie had to learn to navigate through the changing times, bringing with them a racially mixed neighborhood and work force.
It really was a very brilliant thing to put on the air, Struthers said. Robert Wood, the new president of CBS at the time, was the only one brave enough to put it on; the two years prior to that, ABC passed on it.
All in the Family also meant a lot to Struthers personally.
The further away I get from it, the more and more and more I realize that I wouldn t be on the phone with you today if it hadn t been for that show. I mean, that show just opened doors for me.
One woman show
And those doors continue to open, putting to rest the common perception that as an actress gets older, roles get harder to find.
I don t know how or why I ve been so blessed, so lucky, so fortunate, so continually employed. It s been amazing. It s been jaw dropping for me. Every time a job ends, another one comes right at me. I m literally a working actress. I don t have to go get a part-time job doing something else.
With her long resume, it would seem that Struthers has done it all.
I ve done just about everything except a one-woman show, and I think I m working my way toward that. It would definitely be a my life and my career type of story.
She has already written it and performed it at a senior center in Laguna Beach, Calif., where it was well-received.
The audience, she hinted, was not too critical. There s another one of those big laughs.
I sang and did a lot of my stories about my family and my friends and the jobs I ve had. Of course, it need to be worked and reworked, then reworked some more, but I think I would like to get that up and running some day.
Until then, she s happy to be performing in Nunsense.
If only she could figure out how to avoid the bus.
Nunsense is scheduled at 8 p.m. Wednesday in the Valentine Theatre, 400 North Superior St. Tickets are $38, $47, and $59, plus a handling fee per ticket. Information: 419-242-2787 or www.valentinetheatre.com. The show is also scheduled at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 12 in the Niswonger Performing Arts Center of Northwest Ohio, 10700 State Rt. 118 South, Van Wert. Tickets are $25 to $40 plus handling fee. Information: 419-238-6722 or www.npacvw.org
Contact Nanciann Cherry at: email@example.com or 419-724-6130.