NEWS

Sally Struthers joins Reagle Players cast

Jeff Gilbride

Sally Struthers has been surrounded by little girls all month and hopefully during today's performance she'll be on easy street.

"It's kind of ironic. ... I've been helping children all these years and now I'm playing a woman on stage that hates them. It's kind of delicious," Struthers said yesterday in a phone interview.

Struthers, 59, best known for her role as Gloria Bunker-Stivic on "All in the Family," joins Reagle Players' cast in the production of "Annie." She will play Miss Hannigan, the woman who runs Annie's orphanage.

"Miss Hannigan is a very frustrated, single, Irish-American woman who's been stuck for too many years in the orphanage running it and being exposed to orphaned children," she said." She attempts to demand respect from them but they don't always give it and she doesn't deserve it."

This isn't Struthers' first brush with the character. She first played Miss Hannigan in the 1998 touring production of "Annie," which stopped in Boston.

"There's really no role for me to play other than Miss Hannigan, and it's the role that won Dorothy Loudon a Tony (Award) when it came to Broadway in the '70s," Struthers said. "I was sitting in the audience. I was very young and I said, 'If I don't get to play this role someday, there's no justice in this world.' Finally I'm old enough to play it."

Her connection with the Players started two years ago when founder Bob Eagle approached her after a production of "Hello Dolly" in Ogunquit, Maine, she said.

"After that show, Bob came back stage and met with me and asked if I would do something for him in the future. I said I'd love to work in a theater in Massachusetts," she said. "It all came together this summer and I'm happy it did."

Struthers admits she had not heard of Waltham before joining the Reagle Players, but has since grown attached to the city. Struthers said she has been driving along the streets taking in scenery between rehearsals.

"It's beautiful. One thing that fascinates me ... yesterday I realized when you are in Waltham, it's called Lexington Street, and when you are in Lexington, it's called Waltham Street," Struthers said laughing. "It's very lush, very green. People are friendly and helpful ... it renews my belief that we live in one of the nicest countries in the world. There's something to be said for a melting pot."

The cast of "Annie" has been meeting at Robinson Theatre several times a week for the last month to prepare for this afternoon's 2 o'clock performance.

"It's been hard. It's been a lot of hours for the children especially. They have been such troopers. We've had 13-hour practices in this show," she said. "It's a lot of hours in the Waltham High School theater ... there's not enough air conditioning in the theater. Its been particularly hot and humid. We're all just wet mops when we leave there."

For those who have never seen a live production of "Annie," Struthers said theater-goers can expect an immediate connection with the cast.

"When you stare at your television set, when you are sitting with a room full of strangers staring at a large screen seeing a movie, you are more than once removed from the performer," she said. "When you go to see a live production on stage, there's an immediate connection between the performers and the audience. It's much more thrilling."

Struthers said she wishes she could combine the best aspects of acting in television, film and theater.

"I wish I could take the best parts of all of them and meld them into one job," she said. "I love the pay scale of film. I love of the steady work of television and I love the 'high wire act without a net' excitement of theater."

Struthers said she is grateful to Eagle for continuing to produce theater.

"I just admire Bob Eagle so very much. He has worked for years to make this theater a venue that people know they will have a good time in," she said. "He has lead this crusade for 40 years. He loves theater and he loves giving this art to his community ... he's a one-man band."

The show starts today and runs through July 19. For ticket information and show times visit www.reagleplayers.com or call 781-891-5600.

Jeff Gilbride can be reached at 781-398-8005 or at jgibrid@cnc.com