An unlikely friendship

Sally Struthers and Carter Calvert star in ‘Always...Patsy Cline’ at Playhouse through Sept. 7

On stage: All in the Family star Sally Struthers is appearing as Louise Seger in Always…Patsy Cline, which is on stage at New Hope’s Bucks County Playhouse through Sept. 7. Source: Bucks County Playhouse

When actress Sally Struthers turned 72 last month, she celebrated the day with an unshakable sense of gratitude. Not only is Struthers, who portrayed the charmingly innocent Gloria Bunker in the ‘70s sitcom All in the Family, grateful to see another birthday, she’s honored to still be doing what she loves most — acting.

Through Sept. 7 at New Hope’s Bucks County Playhouse, Struthers is starring as Houston housewife Louise Seger alongside Carter Calvert in Always…Patsy Cline – a crowd-pleasing tribute to the acclaimed country music singer and her unlikely friendship with Seger.

Based on a true story, Always…Patsy Cline is a showcase of 27 songs including “Crazy,” “I Fall to Pieces” and more. After hearing Cline on the radio in 1957, Seger became an immediate, avid fan. A chance meeting at a concert brought them face to face. Over a pot of coffee, and through their subsequent letters, they forged a bond that would last until Cline’s tragic death in 1963.

“We are thrilled to have Sally Struthers back at the Playhouse, where she last delighted audiences in the world premiere of Clue, and excited to welcome her co-star, the extraordinary Carter Calvert, who has played Patsy Cline all over the country to great acclaim,” said executive producer Robyn Goodman.

Ahead of opening night on Saturday, Aug. 10, The Times caught up with Struthers, who is thrilled to continue her 20-year reign as Seger at the Playhouse.

“It’s a timeless piece and luckily, the character I play, the actor could be any age because Louise tells the audience the story of how she met Patsy Cline and how they became friends. And so it’s a reflection through Louise’s eyes. You can be a 40-year-old woman telling the story, or you could be an 80-year-old woman telling the story,” Struthers said. “It’s perfect for me to have done this over a 20-year span and each time I play it, it only gets better.”

Struthers previously shared the stage with Calvert (Broadway’s It Ain’t Nothing But the Blues, national touring company of Cats, European tour of Smokey Joe’s Cafe) in Always…Patsy Cline, and is honored to do so once again.

“It takes a very magical person to play that part, and you’ve got it here in Carter Calvert. I did the show for the first time with her, I think it was seven or eight years ago, and I told her then and I meant it, that I don’t ever want to do the show with anybody else but her again,” Struthers said. “She is extraordinary. She’s just magical on stage. When she sings, I am mesmerized and I know the audience is, too.”

Though Always…Patsy Cline boasts an intimate two-woman cast backed by a country western band, Struthers’ dynamic personality brings a unique twist to the musical.

“When Louise starts talking about what her boss said or what her boyfriend said or what her mother said, I do their voices. I play about nine people on stage while I’m doing Louise,” she said. “The audience gets transported through an evening of comedy and moments of sadness, and I think they always leave happy. At least that’s my aim. Carter Calvert’s is to bring Patsy Cline’s music back to them, and mine is to make sure the show isn’t a funeral dirge. Patsy had a very short and difficult life. I always felt that if I didn’t make Louise funny, the show would be a downer. So I make sure it’s anything but.”

Despite playing the role of Seger for two decades, Struthers stressed that audiences will never see the same portrayal twice. For each performance, she hits the stage with an unbridled energy and tries out new things.

“It never crosses my mind to think, ‘Oh my lord, here we go again. How much longer do I have to play this part?’ That never occurs to me,” she said. “Every night before I go on, no matter what play or musical it is, I take a second to envision myself being a performer in the circus and being shot out of the cannon, heading for the net. My whole performance is an arc through the air out of that cannon. It’s just exciting. My whole mantra is, ‘Can I do it again? Yes I can do it again. I can do it again the best I’ve ever done it.’”

According to Struthers, many of her older actress friends currently struggle to find work – which makes opportunities such as Always…Patsy Cline all the more special.

“I don’t know how to use a computer. I don’t type. I’m not good with math. There’s no other job for me. I’m not capable of doing anything else,” Struthers admitted. “I had menial jobs before I started acting – I was a receptionist at a property investment firm, I was a waitress, I was a sales girl at a clothing shop. But I don’t know how to do anything else. My whole adult life, which has been lovingly a very good life, a lengthy life so far, I’ve been perfecting my craft.”

Always…Patsy Cline will play the following schedule: Tuesdays at 7:30 p.m. (plus an additional matinee performance on Tuesday, Sept. 3 at 2 p.m.); Wednesdays at 2 p.m.; Thursdays at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.; Fridays at 8 p.m.; Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.; and Sundays at 2 p.m. Single tickets are on sale now. Tickets range from $60-$85. Special rates for groups of 10 or more. Season ticket packages for the 2020-2021 season will be available soon. Some performances have limited availability. For complete details and to purchase tickets, visit buckscountyplayhouse.org, call 215-862-2121, or visit the box office at 70 S. Main St., New Hope.  ••

Samantha Bambino can be reached at sbambino@newspapermediagroup.com