Guest Review: Winners and Losers at Gateway Theatre

Produced by Theatre Replacement and Neworld Theatre in association with Crow’s Theatre

A guest review from Vancouver arts journalist Jo Ledingham. Jo has an MA in Dramatic Literature (UBC) and reviews regularly for The Courier.

Jamie Long and Marcus Youssef are good friends. Or so they say. But will they still be friends after Winners and Losers closes? Created by Youssef and Long, this is, hands down, one of the most innovative, interesting and brutal theatre pieces I’ve ever seen. It’s like pulling the wings off a butterfly – or so I imagine.

Chris Abraham directs in Gateway’s intimate Studio B, a small black box space that seats 100. There’s a long wooden table at either end of which are two little nickel-plated desk bells that go ‘ding’, two chairs, Jamie and Marcus. That’s it. They draw a chalk rectangle on the floor, enclosing the set and suddenly, Jonathan Ryder illuminates that area and the house lights go down. The game begins.

From left: James Long & Marcus Youssef. Photo: Simon Hayter

It all starts playfully with a debate about winners and losers: farmers’ markets, Mother Teresa, Marilyn Monroe, Tom Cruise, microwave ovens (“a little Three Mile Island in your kitchen” makes that ubiquitous kitchen appliance a loser), Zapatistas, Mexico, Obama, Harper, Canada. The all-in-good-humour arguments for and against fly back and forth with the little bells dinging to indicate a win.

But eventually it all begins to go south. “Do me,” Long challenges. “Winner or loser?” According to director Abraham, it’s about 70-80% scripted with the rest of it being improvised. The order of the debate is fixed and to some extent, so is the game.

Does it get personal? Yes. Does it get physical? Yes.

So why would two friends do this? Do they just want to air hostilities they harbor but which haven’t, thus far, ruined their friendship? Maybe. More to the point, however, is that they explore the very nature of relationship: what are we prepared to overlook for the sake of friendship. What are the sources of envy that plague us? Money. Physical prowess. Success. And if we risk opening these floodgates to our friends, does the friendship cease or does it deepen?

Absolutely fearless, Long and Youssef open themselves up to each other – and to us. What about those $200 jeans? What about that $800,000 home and guaranteed security? As the cuts go deeper and deeper, Long sprawls in what looks like calculated nonchalance: his gangly legs spread, there’s a smile on his face. Youssef crouches in on himself and language begins to fail; “Like” and “Right?” pepper his responses. He begins to look like a loser in a Mamet play. This is a game few of us would have the courage to play.

Winners and Losers looks a lot like open-heart surgery. Metaphoric blood is spilled but, strangely, the experience for the audience is exhilarating. The possibility that friendship can survive – or even be strengthened by – such excruciating honesty is inspirational and opens up floodgates of introspection.

Long and Youssef will be amusing and abusing each other nightly (with a couple of matinees) until December 1. They are, they say, friends. And they say they leave it all at the theatre at the end of each show. Really? As Long quipped accusingly after Youssef delivered a particularly stinging attack, “You stayed up all night working on that, didn’t you?”

Let’s check back on December 2 after the final curtain falls. Will their friendship be a winner or a loser?

Winners and Losers is on stage until December 1 at Studio B, Gateway Theatre, Richmond

Tickets and info at:

Categories: Musings