Winners and Losers
Marcus Youssef and James Long
Soho Rep, New York
Winners and Losers is a genuinely original idea. In essence, two guys in their forties from Vancouver talk to each other for around 100 minutes in front of an audience.
Their starting point for this devised piece is to choose random topics and decide whether they are winners or losers. This leads to some original debating about often obscure subjects.
Throughout, there is a political edge to much of the conversation, for example about oil pipelines and First Nations Peoples (Canada's equivalent to Native Americans). Even microwave ovens and Mexicans become serious sources of debate and argument.
Gradually, the discussion becomes much more personal and and competitive. It is even broken by a game of table tennis and a wrestling bout.
It is only at the end as one reflects that the import of the dialogue becomes apparent.
During the conversation, the two men have bared their souls, reality TV style, in a remarkable way.
The pair from British Columbia very deliberately play on their differences. Marcus is the son of a wealthy and highly-driven Egyptian who emigrated to Canada. This privileged background contrasts with that of James Long. His father was a Mountie and not a very good or supportive man.
The fathers get plenty of exposure amidst debates about politics, Vancouver and contemporary mores.
The experience feels very personal, making audience members voyeurs who might easily feel embarrassed as two grown men bicker, compare masturbatory qualities and compete as to who is enjoying a more worthwhile life.
James has had a tough time but spends his limited capital on $200 jeans, while Marcus enjoys parental windfalls but feels bad about spending them. He is the political activist, leading a party with no supporters but very good left-wing credentials.
All of this is broken by spells of evaluating aspects of society and is winners or losers, sometimes with controversial conclusions.
By the end, you feel as if you know James and Marcus as well as their friends or families. In reality, the personas that they project may well be similar to their own but this is a scripted performance, directed by Chris Abraham so it is hard to know how much might have been written for dramatic effect rather than as autobiography.
In any event, Winners and Losers is refreshing and novel. As such, anyone in the area would do well to head for Soho Rep.
It is also a show that has been touring for a year or more so might just come to a theatre near you in time. It would certainly be a perfect production to take to Edinburgh, should the boys feel like a change of atmosphere next August.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher