Winners and Losers OFF-BROADWAY REVIEWS

Photo: Pavol Antonov
  • NY TIMES

  • NY POST

  • TM

  • TIME OUT

  • L&S AMERICA

Opening Night:
January 4, 2015
Closing:
February 1, 2015

Theater: Soho Repertory / 46 Walker Street, New York, NY, 10013

Synopsis: 

Mexican food. The Naked Cowboy. Beyoncé Knowles. Wall Street Hustlers. Your father. Winners or losers? Longtime collaborators Marcus and Jamie play a simple game that becomes anything but. A fierce and funny epic about what friendship can sustain. On the cusp of turning 40, Marcus Youssef and James Long received an email from a mutual friend promoting a self-help pyramid scheme. This unexpected note inspired the two men to take a frank look at their own lives.

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  • NEW YORK TIMES REVIEW OF Winners and Losers

    Friendship Frays, a Topic at a Time

    Charles Isherwood

    January 6, 2015: Americans are often accused of having a mania for competition, of seeing the world through a prism of success and failure. But Winners and Losers, a frisky theatrical symposium in which all manner of people and things are categorized as one or the other, is created and performed by — what’s this? — two Canadians. The show’s authors and stars, Marcus Youssef and James Long, who hail from Vancouver and evince the cheery amiability of those stereotypically mellow folks up north (a certain Toronto ex-mayor notwithstanding), eventually reveal that they can be just as achievement-obsessed as any striver sharp-elbowing his or her way through the mean streets of New York. Their slight but entertaining show, which opened on Tuesday night at Soho Rep, takes place on a stage furnished only with a long table and a couple of chairs. Mr. Long, lanky and fresh-faced (“I’ve been told I’m the good-looking brother”), and Mr. Youssef, of Egyptian descent and more fleshy (“A theater critic once described me as ‘verging on handsome’ ”), sit at opposite ends of the table. Each is supplied with one of those small metal bells once used to summon help at, say, a motel reception desk. Their loose-jointed conversation, smoothly orchestrated by the director, Chris Abraham, covers topics seemingly picked at random: Mexico — winner or loser? Burt Reynolds? The Occupy movement? Stephen Hawking? Sylvia Plath? (Who is, amusingly, tangled up in the winning and losing sweepstakes with Pamela Anderson of Baywatch fame.) Each chimes his bell when he’s settled on an answer, and they debate the merits of each other’s responses with the joviality of longtime friends. But insidiously working its way into their casual interplay is the kind of jostling for one-upmanship, for alpha male status, that spritzes the theater with the scent of testosterone.

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  • NEW YORK POST REVIEW OF Winners and Losers

    A parlor game has serious consequences in Soho Rep’s ‘Winners and Losers’

    Elisabeth Vincentelli

    January 7, 2015: Winners and Losers starts off as innocuously as a fun parlor game, with its writers, James Long and Marcus Youssef, sitting on either end of a long table, debating what makes a winner or a loser. The range of topics is wide: Mexico, Burt Reynolds, Goldman Sachs, Stephen Hawking — the last of whom Long declares a winner. “A twisted little gnarly winner,” he says. “But a winner.” Keeping things fast and light, the two even take suggestions from the audience; the other night, someone offered the NYPD and the men masterfully hedged their bets. But don’t try this at home, folks! Like so many games, this one takes on a darker edge as things get personal between Long and Youssef, real-life friends and colleagues in the Vancouver theater community. When Long, a Tim Robbins look-alike with a perma-smirk, suggests that the genial Youssef judge his own father (“Winner or loser? Go ahead”), you know trouble is brewing.

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  • THEATERMANIA REVIEW OF Winners and Losers

    Marcus Youssef and James Long make us all feel really uncomfortable at Soho Rep

    Zachary Stewart

    January 6, 2015: You may question if you're even seeing a scripted play at all in Marcus Youssef and James Long's Winners and Losers, now making its New York debut at Soho Rep. Much of the dialogue feels improvised. There's no costume designer. The two actors (Youssef and Long) refer to each other by their real names, dredging up painfully personal details about each other's real lives and scattering them on stage. After several iterations of TV's Big Brother and Real Housewives, have we finally arrived at the age of Reality Theater? Of course, Youssef and Long's repartee is a lot more astute than anything you're likely to hear on Bravo, even though it springs from a highly reductive premise. The setup resembles that of a game show or half hour of punditry on CNN. The two Canadian theater-makers sit at opposite ends of a long wooden table. One brings up a topic and they immediately begin to debate whether that thing is, in the grand scheme of things, a "winner" or "loser." Mexico: loser. Goldman Sachs: winner. The two men are divided on Occupy Wall Street, with Long declaring the movement a loser for failing to prompt any real reforms and Youssef calling it a winner for changing the vocabulary of wealth inequality. Youssef pivots, "Stephen Hawking: That's a good one, eh?" Both men agree that the world-famous cosmologist is a winner. Youssef and Long are highly intelligent and have the ability to jump from topic to topic at lightning speed, leaving your mind swimming. They're also very funny and seem to genuinely enjoy their back-and-forth. In fact, through their humor and smiles you might not notice their genial Canadian politeness slowly morphing into something a lot more vicious.

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  • TIME OUT NEW YORK REVIEW OF Winners and Losers

    In its own sneaky way, a winner

    Adam Feldman

    January 7, 2015: Marcus Youssef and James Long, a pair of amiable Canadian theater artists, track mud into a parlor game in their slyly unassuming autobiographical two-man show. On a nearly bare stage, they sit at a spare wooden table, and argue amusingly and digressively about whether various things (microwave ovens, Sylvia Plath, Mexico) should be considered “winners” or “losers.” Some of these exchanges are improvised nightly, but most are not—you can pick out the difference quite easily—and as the rounds of conversation proceed, marked by dings from metal call bells, the subjects get more explicitly pointed: class, ethnicity, their families, their values. But the opinions they punch out, in some essential way, have been personal and competitive all along; the shaggy-dog style of the presentation has just been disguising, for a while, its dog-eat-dog underpinnings. Winners and Losers is set in a frame of friendly banter, but also in a chalk-drawn box that suggests a more violent struggle between Youssef, whose Egyptian-born father has money, and Long, whose troubled family does not. At one point, the two actually wrestle, and the “street-smart” Long wins easily over the “worldly wise” Youssef.

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  • LIGHTING AND SOUND AMERICA REVIEW OF Winners and Losers

    Theatre in Review: Winners and Losers

    David Barbour

    January 7, 2015: In Winners and Losers, Marcus Youssef and James Long play a game that they have invented. It has no particular structure or goal, consisting as it does entirely of back-and-forth commentary. That pretty much also describes the play that contains it. Winners and Losers, the game, is the sort of thing that kills time at a particularly slow run-through or rehearsal. (Youssef and Long have long and distinguished resumés in the Canadian theatre, as actors, writers, and heads of theatre companies.) Basically, someone introduces a topic -- South Africa, the Occupy movement, and Pamela Anderson are representative examples -- and both players weigh in on whether he/she/it is a winner or a loser. It's little more than a vehicle for them to express their opinions on a variety of subjects and engage in a little verbal fencing. In the right hands, it could have the snap and unexpected hilarity of a great Nichols and May sketch. Whether Youssef and Long are the ideal players of the game they have invented is another question. The first half of this semi-improvised evening consists of halfhearted comments that have the shape of satire without the requisite sting. Long praises microwave ovens, saying, "They're not dangerous, they're safe and they're quick ways for unhealthy British people to cook healthy food for themselves." Discussing Stephen Hawking, one of them imagines asking the physicist, "What would you prefer, Mr. Hawking? Your legacy? Or your legs?" In the middle of a little tussle about Mexico and the Zapatistas, Youssef, who is of Egyptian ancestry, announces he is an associate member of ISIS, which means he "doesn't have to go to the beheadings." Youssef also mentions that he is a member of the leftist political party COPE, which has "more factions than actual members." Forty minutes or more of this sort of fooling around is far too much; when they get into an argument about who is the better masturbator -- well, based on the evidence here, it would seem to be a tie.

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