A.R. Gurney, one of America's most prolific and widely produced playwrights, has won numerous awards for his portrayals of American life in such plays as "The Perfect Party," "Another Antigone," "The Cocktail Hour," "Love Letters," and "A Cheever Evening." FAR EAST, which was first written for the stage and later adapted for STAGE ON SCREEN, is his most personal work to date. "This happened, elements of this happened to me in the '50s," he says. After writing many plays informed by his family and his upbringing in Buffalo, New York, it required a distance of almost 50 years after his service in the Navy in Yokosuka, where most of the play is set, until Gurney was able to begin writing the play. "It was a major story in my life. I never could tell that story until 1999," he says. The play, which premiered under Daniel Sullivan's direction at Williamstown Theatre Festival and subsequently in an extended run at Lincoln Center Theater, borrowed devices from traditional Japanese theater, which Gurney had first seen on his tour of duty in Japan. The formal theatricality of the presentation kept the material at a safe distance in the theater, but in adapting the play for television, Gurney admits, that he felt his story might become more exposed -- and ultimately more personal. "So suddenly I thought: 'Uh-oh, my story which I've so carefully masked with bunraku techniques is going to be out there naked and shivering.'"
On one level, FAR EAST is a traditional coming-of-age story, with echoes of "Madame Butterfly," but Gurney is also exploring the collision of two cultures and the coming-of-age of the United States during the Cold War. In many of the scenes, the Japanese, who are often seen in subservient roles, are silent witnesses to the folly and arrogance of the Americans. Gurney and director Daniel Sullivan retain some of the theatricality of the stage production and create the sense that the story is being seen through the lens of the Japanese point of view, and, in particular, from the memory of Sachiko, Sparky's girlfriend. Taking his familiar characters out of their middle-class American environment, we see these Americans abroad grappling with the past and their expected roles in society.
To learn more about the characters in FAR EAST and see video clips, click on the scenes above. A text-only version is also available.