But David Mamet’s satire of the #MeToo movement, with John Malkovich playing a hideous Harvey Weinstein caricature, feels misjudged and downright nauseating.
Is it political correctness gone mad? Are we too woke to poke fun at the grittier realities of racism and misogyny?
Perhaps… enforced blow jobs certainly don’t feel that funny. But the real issue with this bloated mess of a play is the lack of any kind of point. There’s no bite to the satire, no nuance to the farce. Instead, Bitter Wheat is a two hour onslaught of wisecracks about sexaul assault, fraud, and racial superiority, just for the fun of it.
Doon Mackichan (Sondra), John Malkovich (Barney Fein) Bitter Wheat (pic Manuel Harlan)
Pulitzer-winning writer/director Mamet is on familiar territory with the movie industry and sexual harassment: 1988 hit Speed-The-Plow satirized Hollywood one-up-manship; 1992 play Oleanna followed a professor accused of sexual misconduct; and Mamet's own success writing screenplays means he has the inside perspective on the film industry's power dynamic.
Maybe this is why the whole thing feels so smug. Instead of any clarifying distance or insightful perspective, the play remains stuck firmly in its own sordid subject matter.
The role of film producer Barney Fein (say it fast and it almost rhymes with Weinstein) is played by a real life Hollywood colossus. Back on stage after 33 years of making movies, John Malkovich cuts a monstrous figure, engorged in a fat suit, espousing odious views in a self-assured monotone.
With a viagra pill due to take effect and a prostitute that has cancelled, Barney turns his lecherous energy to the star of an upcoming Korean film (Viviana Tay). Watching him lure this young woman into a hotel room and deploy an indefatigable stream of lies, threats and bribes to force a sexual encounter left us feeling sullied.
We’re supposed to despise this beast and it’s not hard for Malkovich to crank up the depravity. While it’s occasionally fun to watch, the sleaze and manipulation is so monotonous it offers scant space for Malkovich’s prodigious talents.
The final downfall of the villain is shallow and abrupt, with the baffling inclusion of a Syrian shooter. What’s presumably meant to be a smart cliff-hanger feels lazy.
It’s certainly not Mamet’s finest hour, but the bitterest thing about Bitter Wheat is what it represents. Since the #MeToo movement gained momentum in 2017, accounts of misogyny and abuse have exposed all industries. From the artistic director outed as a sex pest to the outcry over entire seasons dominated by men, the tide is changing in theatre.
And a smug, smutty story about powerful men, by powerful men is the last thing we need.
|Bitter Wheat, Garrick Theatre review
|Garrick Theatre, 2 Charing Cross Road, London, WC2H 0HH | MAP
|Leicester Square (underground)
07 Jun 19 – 21 Sep 19, 7:30 PM – 9:30 PM
|Click here for more information and tickets