Steve Bannon's Shakespearean LA Riots Play Is Just As Terrible As You'd Expect

Steve Shakespeare. Image: Emmanuel Hapsis

Thanks to some stellar research by Now This News, we now know that, one day in the not-that-distant past, Steve Bannon (currently President Trump's chief strategist) woke up and decided that writing a play based (extremely loosely) on William Shakespeare's Coriolanus was an excellent idea. He also inexplicably decided to set the action in the midst of the LA riots. (You can't make this stuff up.)

The good people at Now This organized a table read and put the side-splitting results online. You should know going into this that Bannon and his co-author Julia Jones somehow managed to reduce a play that was originally two and a half hours long, down to a little over 20 minutes. They titled it The Thing I Am, re-purposed Coriolanus as a gang member (who, in his death, unites the Crips and Bloods -- but of course!), and massacred Shakespeare's original text.

For those of you brave enough, you can watch the full video here:

https://nowthisnews.com/steve-bannon-hip-hop-rap-musical

However, for those of you wishing to avoid the stomach-churning awfulness of this thing, we decided to sit through it for you and make some notes.

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What follows are the five most startling aspects of The Thing I Am.

1. BANNON AND JONES TRYING AND FAILING TO BE "STREET"

You know that cringe-worthy thing when white kids from the suburbs try to be "street" and use lingo they've heard in their favorite rap songs? Bannon and Jones' screenplay sounds a bit like that, only 100 times more offensive because THEY ARE ADULTS.

2. THE THING I AM KIND OF STICKS TO THE ORIGINAL CORIOLANUS TEXT, BUT THEN... TOTALLY NOT

One of the most jarring elements of The Thing I Am (aside from all the flagrant racism) is the juxtaposition of Shakespearean-style language and what Bannon and Jones consider street slang. The two styles aren't integrated, but instead thrown at each other and awkwardly mashed together at random.

Even more strangely, there are entire sections of The Thing I Am that steal phrasing from the original Coriolanus text, only to pair it with flourishes of gratuitous cursing (or references to crack), for reasons that are entirely unfathomable. At one point, Volumnia and Virgilia conduct a conversation that is a super-watered down version of Coriolanus Act 1, Scene 3, except in Bannon and Jones' version, Volumnia inserts a "Bitch, please!" into the exchange -- presumably because that's how Bannon and Jones think black people talk.

Here's another one of the most astonishing examples of this happening:

CORIOLANUS ORIGINAL TEXT (Act 1, Scene 1):
Marcius: “He that depends upon your favors swims with fins of lead. Hang ye! Trust ye? With every minute you do change a mind.”

STEVE BANNON LITERARY NIGHTMARE SPIRAL:
Marcius: “Peep game, boy. To count on them for favors is to swim with fins of lead. So f**k you! Trust you? Ha ha ha! With each passing minute, you change your common mind. You cry against the other -- crackers, blood, crip, po-po, pol, the rich it doesn’t matter. N*ggas; awe keeps.”

At any given moment, it is impossible to know whether to be offended, disturbed or grateful for the sheer accidental comedy on display in this thing...

3. THE STAGE DIRECTIONS APPEAR TO HAVE BEEN WRITTEN BY A 10-YEAR OLD BOY

It's difficult to know what Bannon and Jones were thinking when they came up with these directions (but we'd bet... not much):

Coriolanus stands out awkwardly among the upright citizenry, like a WWF wrestling hero, tight tee, muscles bulging.”

A wall of monitors, monstrous talking heads chewing the scenery… A Chris Matthews 'Hardball' type is setting up to interview Coriolanus.”
[Which begs the question: What does Steve Bannon have against Chris Matthews?!]

Aufidius says nothing. He checks the gun barrel, then picks up a rod and begins cleaning it. As he talks, the gun transforms: it’s deadly, it’s sexual.”

Is this what life looks and sounds like inside Steve Bannon's brain? It would explain so much.

4. MOST ASTOUNDING LINES

In all fairness, most of the lines of The Thing I Am are pretty astonishing, but the following get special mentions for being particularly jaw-dropping / offensive:

Rider: “Coriolanus is king o’ the day. The bitches are going off crazy like frogs, and the wiggers are kissin' his ass.”

Coriolanus: “Why in this house n*gger suit would I sit here to mad-dog Dick and Jane?”

Gangsta Voiceover: “Let’s unite and don’t gangbang, and let it be a black thing for the little black girl and homie Rodney King. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. If LAPD hurt a black, we’ll kill two. Pow, pow, pow.”

Coriolanus: “You who’d be less chicken-shit than Uncle Tom, who loves a noble life more than a long…”

Guard 1: “Who let the po-po beat him? You think the groans of bitches or your virgin daughter… will blow out the fire intended for your city?”

Crip Soldiers: “Red rum! Red rum! Red rum!”
[We imagine that only stealing from Shakespeare was exhausting for Bannon and Jones, so they threw some action from The Shining in for good measure. Thanks, guys!]

5. AWARD-WORTHY ACTING

Aside from an appearance from ex-Daily Show favorite, Rob Corddry, we don't know where Now This found the actors for their table-read, but the level of discipline on display, in the face of some of the worst dialogue ever committed to page, is award-worthy. It's impossible not to be impressed by the sight of an entire room full of people battling successfully to keep straight faces after shouting: "Peace out, cuz!" at one another.

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Special mention must go to the actor playing Junius Brutus, who delivers the lines “You motherf**ker!” and “The people are pissed,” with a Shakespearean gravitas that suggests both lines qualify as reasonable dialogue in this context. Somebody get this man an Academy Award! Bannon and Jones, on the other hand, would undoubtedly be better suited for the The Razzies.

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