'Bitter Wheat' Review
Updated: Aug 30, 2019
Garrick Theatre, London
John Malkovich sticks out like a sore thumb as an overweight Hollywood mogul in David Mamet’s ‘Bitter Wheat’.
‘Bitter Wheat’ is a new play written by David Mamet centered around a wealthy Jewish Hollywood producer. While waiting for the play to start, we are assured by Mamet, in the program, that the production is purely “a piece of fiction” and just a little inspired by the Harvey Weinstein case. The playwright also insists that the protagonist’s characteristics as well as his name, Barney Fein, are “entirely coincidental”. In reality, however, it is no more than a thin disguise for Weinstein. John Malkovich delivers a dubious execution of Fein’s obnoxious character as he monotonously murmurs his way through the performance. The actor is also clearly in a fat suit, as his heavy midriff does not match the rest of his body. It was really hard to take the character seriously. Mamet, as the director, uses this aspect of the character to induce laughter in order to poke fun at the character’s excessive weight. This is a questionable way to send a message to predatory Hollywood moguls and hardly enough to take Weinstein down a peg.
The rest of the cast are solely embellishments to Malkovich’s character. All of Mamet’s underwritten secondary characters are subjected to numerous attempts of condescension and disregard by Fein. Yung Kim Li portrayed by Ioanna Kimbrook stood out with her role as a budding actress, Barney Fein’s victim. Considering that this is Kimbrook’s stage debut, she does remarkably well with such an empty and underdeveloped part.
The set design is awkward. Mamet together with his set designer, Christopher Oram, could not find a way to change the set from scene to scene without halting the performance and bringing down the safety curtain, twice. This totally disturbed the flow of the performance. It was felt necessary to bring the audience’s attention to this fundamental design error, with signs around the theatre.
Mamet’s ending felt out of place, it was puzzling and lacked credibility. Overall, the show is poorly thought through and unprofessional. If this play is meant to be imitating life, then life must be one big overweight farce.