I had my doubts about David Mamet’s new production Bitter Wheat. Mamet’s response to Harvey Weinstein scandal should be a biting satire on the film industry, on the industries so intent on pleasing Weinstein because they wanted to be part of the glamour.
Unfortunately, Mamet’s work is a shallow and cheap look at power, the main attraction being John Malkovich as Barney Fein (presumably Mamet couldn’t call him Feinstein as Harvey Fierstein would have sued) a film producer and just an awful human being. Even Malkovich cannot make this work; a good actor with an extensive stage and screen catalogue resorting to caricature at times his performance more reminiscent of Tommy Wisseau and rolling around on the floor because he cannot get up in his unnecessary fat suit. Mamet is obsessed with Weinstein’s obesity, using it as a constant excuse why women didn’t want to sleep with him and ignoring the fact that Weinstein was a terrible but charismatic man.
The issue is that Mamet is angry; angry at Weinstein, angry at the people around men like Weinstein and perhaps an internalised rage because this is not his best work. Matthew Pidgeon comes on at the beginning as a writer at war with Fein. It serves no purpose except to lay the foundations that Fein is a terrible person. We never see Pidgeon’s character again until the curtain call. “Have Mamet as your brother in law” they said “it will be advantageous to your career” they said.
Only his assistant Sandra (Doon Mackichan) enabling his behaviour. It is such a waste of Mackichan, a talented comic actress who isn’t given enough comedy to shine. Her character has no interesting features. Would this have worked better as a monologue; perhaps if Mamet was a better writer because then we would have had a good excuse for only seeing it from his side.
The comedy, the satire, the comment on society is just weird; racism towards Yung Kim Li (Ionna Kimbrook, who deserves better from her West End debut,in a role lacking substance) a young Korean actress who he constantly confuses her race with the Chinese and struggles with her English born/educated ways (the constant references to Kent from Americans are weird; do they know where Kent is. Racism towards immigrants and Fein’s support of them when it infringes on his personal life.
There is nothing at stake, even when Fein is caught Mamet gets so bored with justice that he focuses on a section when an immigrant shoots Fein’s mother. Mamet isn’t here to make a point, he is here to cross a line and seems to be pushing his audience into how offended they can be. There are certain types of audience who will enjoy it, claiming nothing is off bounds and it is “PC Gone Mad” but a good writer would have challenged his audience, not encouraged vile behaviour.
Long gone is the Mamet of American Buffalo and Glengarry Glen Ross, this even makes Speed the Plow look like a classic. Anyone who Lindsay Lohan at the Playhouse will tell you it is not a classic. As a production it looks and feels weak. The terrible restaurant scene, that you cannot help but compare to the recent West End run of Glengarry Glen Ross’ first half a Chinese restaurant with its vibrant reds, in contrast to the dull and lifeless scene here. The play repeatedly breaks for scene changes so people can complain about how awful it is.
It is just a real low for the West End, the only positives being its short running time of 1hr 50 WITH INTERVAL and Ionna Kimbrook’s lovely trousers in the first act. Who is producing this? Is the West End really struggling that it needs this to fill houses? A play about nothing, with a huge Hollywood name, is still a play about nothing.
Thanks to London Box Office who provided my ticket. Bitter Wheat is on at The Garrick Theatre until 21 September. Tickets from £29.50 https://www.londonboxoffice.co.uk/search/month/bitter-wheat-tickets/2019/07/16/2