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Review: Bitter Wheat, at Garrick Theatre

27 June, 2019 — By Howard Loxton

John Malkovich in Bitter Wheat

DAVID Mamet’s new play about a Hollywood mogul is obviously inspired by allegations made against Harvey Weinstein. He calls him Barney Fein and we are reminded that this whole play is a fiction and he is played John Malkovich.

One of America’s leading dramatists and such an eminent actor in the lead role create great expectations but the result is sadly disappointing.

In a fat suit that makes him look strangely proportioned, Malkovich gives a bravura performance as we see him riding roughshod over writers, demand sexual favours from an actress and gain compliance with his whims through bribery, bullying and blackmail, buying critical plaudits and Hollywood trophies.

The trouble is this monster is too one-dimensional and other characters are there just to be victims.

He has flown in a young Cambridge-educated British-Vietnamese actress for a meeting. He’ll distribute her new movie and make her a star, making such ludicrous promises, provided she’ll pleasure him.

Newcomer Ioanna Kimbook has too little to work with to make her mark as the actress. Like the other characters she is a mere cipher. Doon Mackichan, as the inscrutable PA who knows all his secrets, gets more to play with but the rest of the cast are reduced to brief cameos (though they seem more real than Barney).

This may be meant to be wild farce: Malkovich certainly gives it appropriate pace and energy, but it is too savage to get many laughs.

Of course, I may have missed the whole point. Could this play and its predatory liar in his Hollywood office be meant as an analogy for the White House?

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