Review Roundup: John Malkovich Leads David Mamet's New Weinstein-inspired Play BITTER WHEAT
David Mamet's new play Bitter Wheat is playing at the Garrick Theatre in London, with a press night tonight, Wednesday 19 June. John Malkovich returns to the West End stage for the first time in nearly 30 years for this world premiere, taking on the role of Barney Fein, a top dog Hollywood producer reminiscent of Harvey Weinstein.
Bitter Wheat is a play about a depraved Hollywood mogul. It rips the pashmina off the suppurating wound which is show business, and leaves us better human beings, and fitter to once more confront the horror of life.
Let's see what the critics had to say...
Debbie Gilpin, BroadwayWorld: When David Mamet's new play was announced back in January, it was met with more than a few raised eyebrows. Bitter Wheat is a comedy about movie mogul Barney Fein, a man who bears more than a passing resemblance to disgraced producer Harvey Weinstein, and sees John Malkovich make a return to the London stage. The question is, should Mamet be the one to tell this kind of story at this juncture? Do we really need another male perspective on the subject?
Michael Billington, The Guardian: Leaving aside its origins, what is dismaying is the clumsiness of the satire on manipulative moguls: despite the formidable presence of John Malkovich, the play offers the rare spectacle of Mamet punching below his
Holly Williams, Time Out London: John Malkovich has been tempted back to the West End to star in it, and although he plays Fein as wholly unpleasant, he's not nuanced. Fein is a nasty piece of work all right - but Malkovich's rantings are one-note, even monotonous. He's in a fat suit, and Mamet - who also directs - makes many dispiriting attempts to wring laughs out of the fact that this character is overweight, as if that's the key to taking down a Weinstein. Come on Mamet, you can go higher than this.
Alice Saville, Exeunt: John Malkovich has a lot of fun with the role of Fein, a man whose dialogue loops in surreal circles, who barracks and wheedles the women around him, or tumbles around the floor like a malevolent teddy bear. But Mamet's text only offers a comic summation of his operating methods, not a look at why he's compelled to act the way he does. There's not a chink of real feeling or vulnerability under all the bluster, which makes this play unsatisfyingly morally straightforward.
David Lister, Independent: David Mamet is the master of witty, piercing and understated dialogue, always hinting at anxieties underneath, the great challenger of politically correct orthodoxies. If anyone could find a human side to a monster, and make us question some of the nuances of the #MeToo movement, it's him. John Malkovich, prowling the stage like a bloated, warped colossus, plays the not even thinly disguised Weinstein figure, Barney Fein. He is present on stage throughout and dominates it with a towering performance that conveys not just the vulgarity, the bullying, and the predatory nature of the movie mogul, but also the paranoia that helped to define Weinstein.
Tim Bano, The Stage: Towards the end the play, Mamet does find something to say: he shows that Fein and men like him, on account of being rich, white, influential and male, will always think they can get out of any situation, and Mamet takes that notion to its absurdist point. But we don't need this play to prove Mamet can write good dialogue, or to expose the deep-set rot of the Hollywood machine. Mamet's cool cynical detachment, with which he can take aim at the whole damn system, is pointless. It's like arguing for both sides of a suppurating wound.
Ben Croll, Vanity Fair: The facts are incontestable, your honor, and the photos do not lie: Harvey Weinstein is fat, mean, and Jewish. During his rise and reign and throughout his well-earned fall, no one ever put those attributes in question. But no one really considered them to be Weinstein's most salient qualities either-no one, it seems, except for David Mamet. That has to be the only explanation for the playwright's latest theatrical outing, the bizarre and misguided Bitter Wheat. Written and directed by Mamet, anchored by John Malkovich in a fat suit, and opening June 19 at London's Garrick Theatre, the satirical new play takes aim at the fallen mogul and the society that produced him, working them into a warmed-over farce that brazenly misses the mark.
Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph: After a fallow period in terms of major hits, would this world premiere, which harnesses the maverick talent of John Malkovich (back in the West End for the first time in more than 25 years), give Mamet a late-career boost or fatally damage the brand? The truth is that Bitter Wheat is a bitter disappointment - it doesn't add enough to the subject and, while it courts controversy, there's not enough to get the town talking. It may not knock Mamet off his pedestal, but it warrants no trophy either - quite a fail.
Sarah Crompton, WhatsOnStage: David Mamet has written some of the best and most provocative plays of the 21st century. And then he's written Bitter Wheat, which is not really a play at all but an unfocused and tawdry howl of anger which unforgivably wastes the talents of its greatest asset, its leading man John Malkovich.
Alice Jones, The i Paper: The victim is relegated to literally watching men talk to each other from the sidelines. Mamet doesn't even bother to give it a proper ending; he might as well have zoomed in on Malkovich giving a big wink. The theatrical equivalent of clickbait.
Dominic Maxwell, The Times: Mamet's play lurches from set piece to set piece and tone to tone in search of a good-enough counterpoint to its awful antihero. Some jokes land. Others go thud. It feels like a first draft, its silly and unsatisfactory second half needs rewriting. Mamet directs an oddly listless production hampered by old-fashioned, silent blackouts during scene changes.
Aleks Sierz, theartsdesk: Bitter Wheat is a classic of lazy playwriting. Mamet follows a simple recipe, writing by numbers. And you could do this too. Here's how: 1) Select a current controversy; 2) Read a couple of Sunday supplement articles about it; 3) Dredge your memory for some Tinseltown anecdotes; 3) Write a monologue. Add jokes.
Matt Wolf, The New York Times: Fine actor though he is, not even Mr. Malkovich can ride out the faux-psychology of Fein's climactic lament. "I molested various actresses, as who has not," Fein says by way of defense, as his accusers grow in number and Oscars are revoked. A "deeply flawed human being" adrift in a "wicked" world, Fein, we're meant to understand, might have been a more humane and decent person had he been able to lose weight. Really? A diet would have put everything right?