Robert Tanitch reviews Bitter Wheat at Garrick Theatre, London WC2
John Malkovich returns to the London stage after a long absence in a new and disappointing play written and directed by David Mamet. It’s a short piece, lasting well under two hours, and it does not need an interval.
Bitter Wheat is a black farce about a depraved Hollywood mogul who offers a young Eurasian actress leading roles in three movies if she will give him a massage.
It is not the first time Mamet, a witty writer, a master of abrasive dialogue, has written about Hollywood; but this comedy is not as good an exposé as Speed-the-Plough.
In May last year, Harvey Weinstein was charged by New York police with rape, criminal sex act, sex abuse and sexual misconduct for incidents involving women.
Mamet’s play is a response to the #MeToo movement and the allegations made against him.
Bitter Wheat is not about Harvey Weinstein. Harvey Weinstein is merely the starting point.
Sexual exploitation is a controversial and uncomfortable subject for many and the moment Mamet announced he was going to write about Weinstein he was widely condemned.
Sexual harassment however, has been the norm in Hollywood since the silent film era.
Mamet’s mogul is described as “a bloated monster – a studio head, who like his predecessor, the Minotaur, devours the young he has lured into his cave.”
The mogul is an evil man. The poster makes him look like a caricature of an evil man and that is how Malkovich plays him – repulsive, vulgar, insane and paranoid about his obesity. At one point he imitates a turtle on his back unable to get up. He claims he is as much a victim as the actress whose career he has destroyed.
There are good performances by Ioanna Kimbook, straight out of drama school, who plays the actress, and by Doon Mackichan who is cast as the mogul’s long-term, colluding PA.
Bitter Wheat is trivial, underwritten and one-sided. There is little chance of audiences today getting as emotionally involved and divisive as they did 27 years ago.