'The Odd Couple'

'Wheel of Fortune' host Pat Sajak, left, plays neat freak Felix Unger to Joe Moore's slob Oscar Madison in Neil Simon's comedy 'The Odd Couple' at Connecticut Repertory Theatre's Nutmeg Summer Series at UConn in Storrs June 21-July 7. (Bob Copley / June 14, 2012)

It might seem at first like an odd coupling: the puckish host of "Wheel of Fortune," one of the longest running game shows in television history, performing in theater in rural Connecticut.

But Pat Sajak doesn't see it that way. "The Odd Couple" is a Neil Simon comedy after all, and it nicely reflects the host's playful personality on TV and off. It also allows him to perform on stage with a longtime buddy during a summer break.

Sajak and Joe Moore, an actor, playwright, and news anchor at KHON-TV in Honolulu, Hawaii, are cast in "The Odd Couple," which begins performances Thursday and continues through July 7 as part of the Connecticut Repertory Theatre's Nutmug Summer Series on the UConn campus in Storrs.

The two men first performed the comedy for a benefit at a theater in Hawaii in 2001. A tape of that production made its way to UConn's Connecticut Repertory Theatre. Vincent J. Cardinal, the department head of dramatic arts and CRT's artistic director, who is staging the comedy, asked the men to have another go at the show. The men thought if they could manage to get free from their demanding TV schedules, "Why not?"

Sajak and Moore also performed as another famous comedy team, playing the characters of Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton, in a stage adaption based on the TV series "The Honeymooners" in 2004.

"I have no illusions about who I am and what I do and where I stand in the pantheon of broadcasting," says the three-time Emmy Award-winning Sajak about stage acting. "If I were a younger man I might have said, 'I'd like to do more of this and pursue it more seriously.' But I'm not. It's more than a lark, but it's not a career move."

Playing a character and performing in a narrative is different than hosting a game show, but there are some similar skills, says the Chicago native.

"I discovered that I have developed over the years a sense of timing," he says. "I'm also a pretty good study and a pretty good learner of things. Plus, I've been lucky enough to have been directed by some awfully good people: Vince, in this case."

But Sajak has no illusions that he will be getting a call from Lincoln Center.

"There are certain realities with whom you are and the baggage you carry in terms of your career. I don't think the world was ready for 'King Lear' starring me so 'The Odd Couple' seemed to be a good vehicle that we could have fun with."

Sense of Self

Indeed Sajak and Moore talk like they are enjoying themselves on stage and off, bantering back and forth like two good-natured smart alecs they are in real life.

Sajak isn't all that different off-camera from his "fortunate" self, says Moore, who plays the lug to Sajak's bantam boy.

"I've always maintained that one of the toughest roles to play is yourself," says Sajak. "It's one of the reasons why some of the worst talk show guests are well-known actors because they don't know how to be themselves... If I was the 'Wheel of Fortune' host walking around the house my wife would kill me after a week and a half."

Moore is asked what Pat Sajak is really like.

"Pretend I'm deep," says Sajak. "'Underneath the facade there's a veneer.' "

"He is a nice guy," says Moore. "He's not one of those people you see on the air and think he's a nice guy and then finding out he's a jerk in real life. To me, he genuinely seems to be what you see on the air.

"He can be a bit of the wisecracking guy as the host and he's definitely that in person, but it comes from a good place. He's not taking shots at guys."

"Is there any dark side?" says Sakak, egging his friend on.

"Thankfully none that I've seen," says Moore.