January 14, 2015

How "Winners and Losers" Lost It for Me

If watching two guys drink beer and try to one up each other is your idea of a good time, then Winners and Losers, which opened last week at Soho Rep., may be the show for you. Alas, I need more than that to entertain me.

The show starts off amiably enough. Its creators and sole performers Marcus Youssef and James Long wander out on a stage set with a table and two chairs, introduce themselves and then begin a game in which they confer the status of winner or loser on a variety of subjects, including, at the performance I attended, the basketball player Steve Nash, NAFTA, microwave ovens and masturbation. They hit little silver bells when they reach a conclusion and are ready to move on to the next topic.

But as the 90 minute-show progresses, Marcus and Jamie, as they call one another, tell us more about themselves—or the characters they’ve created for themselves. They’re both Canadians, in their 40s, married with two kids each and live in a Park Slope-like neighborhood in Vancouver. Marcus is from a wealthy family and stands to inherit a lot of money from his father an Egyptian √©migr√© and successful banker. Jamie had a more modest upbringing and left home and started to fend for himself at 16. 

All of it becomes fair game for the kinds of aggressive insults and put downs that alpha males lob at one another. Things get nasty. And the line between the theatrical and the real is intentionally hazy. The press rep says about 20% of the show is improvised each night (click here to read about how it was put together) 

Whenever Marcus and Jamie seemed to get bored with the verbal sparring, they got physical—wrestling, playing ping pong and, of course, swigging beer.  When I got bored, which happened about 30 minutes in, I simply zoned out.

I get that they were intentionally trying to make me uncomfortable (even throwing in a couple of bad-taste jokes about the ISIS beheadings) and they get a win for that. However, they apparently also want to press home some insights about male privilege and the changing definitions of manliness and since they offer few fresh observations about either, they lost on that front. 

But where they really failed was in making me care any more than I would have if I'd overhead two random dudes going all mano-a-mano over drinks at some bar.

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