A. R. Gurney is the master of superficiality, but he has the misfortune of being neither Jewish nor homosexual, at least one of which seems to be a prerequisite nowadays for sophisticated comedy. At its best, this can be most entertaining and even say something worthwhile; at its worst, it lines up one-liners like golf balls and drives them into the audience. Gurney, in decline, sometimes misses the ball altogether.
Far East, about a wealthy Milwaukee socialite with earnest aspirations, stationed as a Navy lieutenant in Japan during the Korean troubles, is yet another semi-autobiographical piece, full of facile charm and having nothing to say, artfully packaged in the finest Japanese wrapping paper. The insubstantial parcel is stuffed with trendy this and that. Racism: Our hero wants to marry his Japanese-waitress sweetheart, but his family and his C.O.’s jealous wife throw monkey wrenches in his way. Homosexuality: His buddy, Ensign Bob, is homosexual and blackmailed into petty espionage. Mild anti-militarism: Not all is tiptop in the U.S. Navy. And a kind of triangle: young man, older man, and his in-between-age wife. It starts out as the movie Sayonara, turns into Madama Butterfly, and ends as a shaggy-dog story. The Japanese girlfriend never appears.
Daniel Sullivan has cannily directed, using devices from every form of Japanese theater, and Thomas Lynch’s Japanesy décor is delightful. Two performances stand out: Bill Smitrovich’s commanding officer and Connor Trinneer’s Ensign Bob. The overrated Michael Hayden is unwinning as the hero; the mannered Lisa Emery, annoying as the heroine. Far East contains a goodly amount of jokiness and seriousness; the difficulty is in telling them apart.