Winners and Losers

Winners and Losers is an intriguing agon of words, a novel way to open up personal storytelling. Scripted and performed by Marcus Youssef and James Long, both of Vancouver, B.C., with breakouts of improvisatory riffs and a quick game of ping-pong, the work is a rapid-fire debate over the question of who, or what, is the biggest winner.

Warming up with a quick assessment of what they had for dinner last night, they move on to topics like whether Canada or the U.S has handled its First Nations/American Indian issues better. Digging most deeply, they confront one another: is James or Marcus the more worldly wise, the better father, the more successful person?

It’s key to their argument that you have to consider the resources randomly doled out to each of us when we commence this Checkered Game of Life. Through a bit of mental martial arts, a dominant culture like the U.S. can be seen as weak. (To physicalize this line of reasoning, the two men engage in a brief [we hope, choreographed] bout of wrestling.) Perhaps they explain it best in an interview with Woolly:

MARCUS: Doing the show in DC is a dream. You guys live in the centre. Of an empire. Holy winner. And we feel like winners just for being invited–that’s the Canadian way. But is your empire in decline? Seems like it. Then who’s the bigger loser? You guys, for an electoral system entirely about raising unimaginable sums of cash over an absurd length of time? Or the rest of us, for paying far closer attention to your endless electoral sideshow than than what’s actually going on in our own countries?

The stories they tell are sometimes hilarious, sometimes chastening (Marcus once worked in a hospital laundry, sorting through the fouled sheets of the departed), sometimes a little crazy (James’s set piece in a dive bar about swapping insult jokes with a First Nations man recently released from prison). Embellished? Perhaps. But it makes a good story.

James and Marcus are marvels of the improvisatory “yes-and” even when the requirements of the piece call for a “no-but.”

  • Winners and Losers, created and performed by Marcus Youssef and James Long, directed by Chris Abraham, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, Washington
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