Skip To Content

David Mamet’s Harvey Weinstein Play Is As Bad As We Expected

In January, we reported with all due chagrin that David Mamet was premiering a play based on Harvey Weinstein on London’s West End. That play, “Bitter Wheat,” opened June 19 and early reviews have us even more confused — not about the play’s quality, but about its baseline reason for existing.

In the production, John Malkovich plays the fictional movie producer Barney Fein, a predictably transparent Harvey Weinstein analogue. None of this is surprising, but some of what is reportedly emphasized in Malkovich’s portrayal — namely the Miramax founder’s weight and religious and party affiliation — is, while also not much of a revelation, disappointing.

“Harvey Weinstein is fat, mean, and Jewish, no one ever put those attributes in question,” Vanity Fair’s Ben Croll writes in his review. “But no one really considered them to be Weinstein’s most salient qualities either — no one, it seems, except for David Mamet.”

Malkovich of course is pretty svelte, so he’s been put in a fat suit for the role. Mamet, who also directed the production, “makes many dispiriting attempts to wring laughs out of the fact that this character is overweight, as if that’s the key to taking down a Weinstein,” writes Holly Williams of TimeOut London.

The plot of “Bitter Wheat” is reportedly predictable at the outset, with Fein yelling at a screenwriter who wants to report him to the WGA for lack of payment — “The writers’ guild would drink a beaker of my mucus if I asked them to” — and later proposing projects to Yung Kim Li, a young English actress of Korean descent, that include, per The Guardian, “roles in a Korean Gone With the Wind or a gay version of Anne Frank.” Fein also tells the actress, played by Ioanna Kimbook, that unless she watches him pleasure himself in the shower he’ll cancel the release of a completed project, “Bitter Wheat.”

As David Lister of The Independent writes, “As he makes his outrageous, sexual demands, Fein adds: ‘I don’t think you understand how much money I gave to the Democratic Party.’”

Here’s where things get weird. In Act II Fein lands in a jail cell for his attempted assault of Li, but, by all accounts, the play does not then become a meditation on the consequences of his actions. Instead, it takes an offramp into the refugee crisis and international anti-Semitism.

Yes, really.

“We witness the downfall of the self-pitying, still self-aggrandising Fein — and then comes the revelation that his elderly mother has been gunned down by an illegal Syrian immigrant declaring ‘death to the Jews,’” Williams writes. “Rather than show a shred of sadness, Fein launches into a frantic, contorted defence of immigrants, in what is an unconvincing display of liberalism. Presumably, it’s a plot move designed simply to bait all the right-on liberals in the audience. Politically, it’s tiresome; theatrically, it’s loopy.”

Croll characterizes this subplot and the trappings of the play’s final half as resembling Borscht Belt schtick. Mamet, he writes, seems both oblivious of and indifferent to the wider societal implications of #MeToo.

“This play feels less connected to contemporary culture than your average late-night monologue or middling episode of ‘South Park,’” Croll writes. “The controversy is entirely peripheral to the work itself.”

But it looks like Mamet’s play also fails as a character study.

“The main reason why this play is so ineffectual is that the hero is unrelievedly vicious,” Michael Billington writes in The Guardian. “He simply comes across as a power-addicted predator of bottomless cynicism.”

That, and — of course — someone who has a compulsion about his weight, complaining on his arrest that “the overweight get no sympathy.”

While the reviews do concede that Mamet does not appear to want the audience’s sympathy for Fein or his real world counterpart, they also confirm what one might have suspected all along.

“Turns out, nope, we really didn’t need a Harvey Weinstein play,” Williams writes. Especially not one “written by a man and from a male perspective.”

PJ Grisar is the Forward’s culture intern. He can be reached at [email protected]

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning, nonprofit journalism during this critical time.

Now more than ever, American Jews need independent news they can trust, with reporting driven by truth, not ideology. We serve you, not any ideological agenda.

At a time when other newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall and invested additional resources to report on the ground from Israel and around the U.S. on the impact of the war, rising antisemitism and the protests on college campuses.

Readers like you make it all possible. Support our work by becoming a Forward Member and connect with our journalism and your community.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.