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Loretta Joins Pat And Joe

For their latest collaboration, Wrestling Ernest Hemingway, old pals Joe Moore and Pat Sajak reached out to Hawaii’s Broadway star Loretta Ables Sayre, and gave her an expanded role in this stage adaption of a film. It opens June 19 at Hawaii Theatre

Joe Moore and Pat Sajak are an odd couple. They’ve literally been Neil Simon’s comically mismatched Odd Couple, Felix and Oscar, in 2001 at Hawaii Theatre and in a 2012 run at Connecticut Repertory Theatre, with the latter receiving accolades in The New York Times. Then, coming up June 19, the longtime buddies will portray another odd duo in their latest joint production: Wrestling Ernest Hemingway.

Sajak points out that their real-life circumstances also make the pair unlikely. The two lost touch after serving in the Army together in Vietnam, until more than a decade later when Sajak was watching the classic Hawaii Five-O and spotted Moore in one of his occasional appearances on the show. A call to the production company and, “We’ve been fast friends ever since,” says Sajak. “It’s an unusual relationship because obviously we’re far apart. Frequently, we’ll go a fair amount of time without talking to each other. I mean, Joe is doing the news in Hawaii (KHON), and I’m doing a game show (Wheel of Fortune) in California. How do you meld that? The stage is a wonderful way to do it. We’ve averaged (projects together) every two years or so for the last 10 or 12 years. And we may have a few more in us.”

Their shows together at Hawaii Theatre also include The Boys in Autumn in 2010 and The Honeymooners in 2004.

In addition to securing Sajak, Moore’s plays have attracted a string of A-list actors to the island, from Richard Dreyfuss to Patty Duke, James “Danno” MacArthur (from the classic Five-O) and MASH’s Gary Burghoff.

The surprise cameo star Moore reeled in for Hemingway is Hawaii’s own dynamite actress Loretta Ables Sayre. In addition to an extensive history of performing locally at Diamond Head Theatre, Hawaii Theatre, Honolulu Theatre for Youth and in several TV productions filmed on the island, Sayre has made a name for herself beyond our shores with her 2010 Tony-nominated Broadway debut as Bloody Mary in South Pacific and a subsequent 2011 reprisal of the role in her London debut of the show and U.K. tour.

Hemingway, the film, starred Robert Duvall (Walter) and Richard Harris (Frank). In the female roles were Shirley MacLaine and Sandra Bullock, but there was a lesser role that jumped out at Moore when he was adapting the script for the stage. It’s that of sassy waitress Bernice, who works in a snack shop where Walter and Frank spend time.

“I saw potential in this character,” Moore says. “It just struck me, boy, this could be such a crowd pleaser. I beefed it up a little and I thought, you know who would be great for this would be Loretta Ables Sayre.”

“We were dying to get her,” agrees Pat, “but we wanted a role that’s worthy of her talent. I think we got it.”

Fortune was on their side, with Sayre having a perfect block of time open despite a gig in New York as … you guessed it, Bloody Mary. Sayre, who has sung many times over the years at Hawaii Theatre with the likes of Brothers Cazimero, but who last acted on that stage 25 years ago (Dreamgirls), jumped at the opportunity.

“I am a huge Robert Duvall fan,” she says. “I saw the movie years ago and loved it. The way Joe has written Bernice is outrageously wonderful. I love a character with attitude, and she has it in spades.”

Moore happened upon Wrestling Ernest Hemingway (1993) while looking at a classic video catalogue. He read the description, was intrigued, got the DVD, and 20 minutes in decided it would be even better suited for stage than film.

Author of the screenplay, Steve Conrad, immediately gave his approval, but Moore had to wait several months for production company Warner Bros. to acquiesce. The process seemed to speed up when Moore explained that the production is a benefit for Hawaii Theatre and that he and Sajak have even forgone salaries for their roles.

“It’s an unusual process because normally it works the other way, where you take a stage play and try to open it up for the screen,” points out Sajak. Moore pumped out the initial script, and a lot of Skyping, emailing, texting and phone conversations with Sajak later, the two had a polished product.

“I’d say about 65 percent of the dialogue in the play is from the film and 35 percent is original material that Pat and I wrote,” says Moore. “We hadn’t intended to contribute that much, but it would have been a very short play had we used only what was in the film. We were delighted that (screenwriter) Mr. Conrad approved everything we added for the stage.”

Moore (Frank) and Sajak (Walter) play two elderly retirees living in Florida. The former is a curmudgeonly ex sea captain who has a chance meeting with the latter.

“Pat and I both loved Odd Couple, the first play we did together, which is a lot of gags and jokes,” notes Moore. “(Hemingway) plays more like something that could happen in real life when two old guys who are totally different meet in a park.”

“I’m a little more genteel than my friend Joe here, who is a bit of a former Navy captain blowhard,” says Sajak. “Joe’s character is not one that I would normally want to spend time with. He’s fairly loud and abrasive, tells jokes and swears a lot. I’m a quieter guy, who likes to work his crosswords puzzles. To see these two guys bond and ultimately find peace with each other is a process that’s fun to watch. The challenge for us is to make these guys each, in their own way, likable enough that you care about their relationship.”

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