Bitter Wheat by David Mamet. The Garrick theatre, London WC2 to 21 September. 2**. William Russell

by David Mamet.
The Garrick theatre, Charing Cross Road, London WC20HH to 29 September 2029.
Mon- Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu & sat 2.30pm.
Runs 2 hr One interval.

Review: William Russell 20 June.

An impressive return to the stage in a less impressive play

That John Malkovich was tempted to make his return to the theatre after 33 years in a David Mamet play is easy enough to understand and this so-called farce or comedy provides him with a monster part – he is never off stage – in which to display that he is by any standards an imposing and gifted star player, arguably a great actor. It could hardly be less topical. Barney Fein, a Hollywood mogul, is interviewing a young South Korean actress played by newcomer Joanna Kimbrook. It rapidly becomes clear he is a lecher, and she has been lined up as fresh new flesh for somebody he is trying to influence, something she does not understand although everyone else does. But he changes his mind and decides he will have her himself. That the Harvey Weinstein affair comes to mind is no surprise, although it has to be said he denies all the charges brought against him and this is specifically not about him.
Part of the problem is it proves a dreadfully ill constructed play. In the first Act there is a long tedious scene setting things up, a set change which is slow, and it is only when he finally gets the young woman into his suite and starts to molest her that it gets going. But that scene is actually very shocking and unpleasant to watch. It is one thing to read reports about what Weinstein got up to, another to watch someone of his ilk setting about doing it. Malkovich, in a fat suit, is repellent and horribly engaging, monster in disguise. The plotting of the scene has some awkward moments – the girl falls asleep at one point and is awakened by his removing her belt. She may have been drugged but it isn’t clear and the falling asleep, although she is allegedly just off the plane from South Korea, seems an unlikely thing to happen. It is deeply uncomfortable to watch.
Act two is the aftermath and here suddenly the mood changes disastrously. Fein is ruined, his complicit associate played for more than an underwritten part is worth by Doon Mackichan, abandons him – she has lawsuits of her own to face – but he refuses to give up. It is treated as farce and the audience responds with relief as Fein carries on regardless wallowing in self pity, being blind to the situation he is in, and trying to manipulate all who enter the room. But it really is no laughing matter and the laughter is ill earned, more relief that the nastiness is over than genuine. Mamet brings in a couple of men with guns for reasons that are ludicrous to try to bring it all to a conclusion – incredibly the girl returns – and it all just drags to a halt.
Malkovich’s performance is never less than attention holding – his star power should ensure audiences will turn out – but as a vehicle for his star’s talents Mamet, who directs his own play, has come up with something unworthy. There is a play with be written, a film to be made about the rebellion against the years of casting couch tyranny in Hollywood that has taken place but this unpleasant, unworthy play is not it.
Barney Fein: John Malkovich.
Sondra: Doon Mackichan.
Yung Kim Lee: Joanna Kimbrook
Teddy Kempner
Alexander Arnold
Matthew Pidgeon
Zephyryn Taitte.
Director: David Mamet.
Designer: Christopher Oram.
Lighting Designer: Neil Austin.
Production Photography: Manuel Harlan.

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