Although resemblances to living persons are called “coincidental” in David Mamet’s new play, “Bitter Wheat,” there is little doubt that the Hollywood mogul played by John Malkovich is inspired by the disgraced mega producer Harvey Weinstein. So how are the reviews for the play, which opened Wednesday at the Garrick Theatre in London?
They are not kind.
The horrific story of sexual predation falls short — way short — of Mamet’s mark, reviews say. Although critics seem to want to love Malkovich, the early consensus is that satire centered on the fictional Barney Fein is exploitative and not remotely in tune with the #MeToo movement.
A roundup of the reviews:
The Telegraph: “After a fallow period in terms of major hits, would this world premiere, which harnesses the maverick talent of John Malkovich (back in the West End for the first time in more than 25 years), give Mamet a late-career boost or fatally damage the brand? The truth is that ‘Bitter Wheat’ is a bitter disappointment — it doesn’t add enough to the subject and, while it courts controversy, there’s not enough to get the town talking. It may not knock Mamet off his pedestal, but it warrants no trophy either — quite a fail.”
The Guardian, which headlined its review “Malkovich and Mamet’s monstrous misfire”: “Leaving aside its origins, what is dismaying is the clumsiness of the satire on manipulative moguls: Despite the formidable presence of John Malkovich, the play offers the rare spectacle of Mamet punching below his weight.”
The New York Times: “I’m not at all sure that Fein’s story, or that of the man who inspired him, is as simple as that, but ‘Bitter Wheat’ would be considerably better were it more fleshed out. That’s assuming, of course, that it had to be written at all.”
The Hollywood Reporter: “David Mamet’s latest effort, which the playwright has also directed, is just as diagrammatic, glib and insincere as any over-massaged middlebrow Miramax film from the 1990s.”
Vanity Fair: “On paper, the piece operates as a calculated provocation — reframing the #MeToo narrative from the abuser’s own perspective, and doing so with a jagged comic tone. In practice, however, such a conceit can only fall flat when, as becomes clear over the course of the show, its author doesn’t fully understand the story he’s trying to tell, or the discourse he’s trying to inflame. ‘Bitter Wheat’ thus comes across as an impudent shrug of a play, a work designed to court scandal whose most shocking quality is its laziness.”
Time Out London: “David Mamet’s Harvey Weinstein-inspired satire is bad, weird and pointless.”
The Independent: “Malkovich deserved a more rounded and thought-provoking play.”