The theater’s walls are painted black and the bare stage has a long wooden table with two press bells on it and two chairs. Two male Canadian performers in their 40’s enter, and with white chalk draw a rectangle around the table.
Marcus Youssef, a stocky man of Egyptian extraction, and James Long, a tall athletic man, make up the cast. Both have academically theatrical backgrounds and the show has the feel of an academic exercise. 80% of it is scripted by them, and 20% is supposed to be improvised. It has reportedly toured Canada and around the world prior to this New York City premiere.
They sit at either end of the table and play “winners and losers.” They comically debate such topics as microwave ovens, legalization of marijuana, Goldman Sachs, and who is the better masturbator. On the subject of Stephen Hawking, one would ask him, “Would you rather have your legacy or your legs?”
A lengthy portion takes on who has the better street smarts supported with autobiographical revelations. The one audience-sought topic suggestion was Fracking. The two then often frantically ring their bells when they believe they’ve supported and concluded their argument.
Then they play Ping-Pong and during the match they continue to debate and more biographical details are imparted. One leaves the stage to go to the bathroom. The other continues to talk. When the other returns, Ping-Pong is replaced by a stylized and intense wrestling sequence that is presumably symbolic of their clashes. As this occurs, the lights in the theater that have been bright are darkened.
The drawn-out finale is a fiercely acrimonious type of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? style confrontation dealing with class warfare. Here the dispute is over the duo’s given circumstances in life. One is from wealth and the other is from painful dysfunction. Supposedly it’s all true (based upon reading the cast’s biographies) which adds a layer of heightened reality to the proceedings.
“We’re done,” is the curtain line. It’s all been like My Dinner with Andre crossed with shades of Spalding Gray.
The exploration of friendship among individuals from different socio-economic backgrounds appears to be the show’s main theme, and parts of it are quite moving and provocative. The chief technical flaw is that at 90 minutes, the show often drags. The two men are interesting, but not enough to sustain this length. At times it becomes, tedious, repetitious and exasperating.
Director Chris Abraham does a very good job of placement of the performers, staging the various sections, and pacing the material as well as possible considering its jaggedness. The lighting design of Jonathan Ryder skillfully creates various moods and enhances the subtle shifts in dramatic tone.
Mr. Youssef and Mr. Long both exhibit an appealing comic flair with intelligent depth. Though uneven, Winners and Losers has hauntingly complex qualities that linger in the mind after it’s over.
Winners and Losers (through February 1st, 2015)
Soho Rep. in association with John Adrian Selzer
Produced in association with Theatre Replacement and Neworld Theatre
Soho Rep., 46 Walker Street, in Manhattan
For tickets call 866-811-4111 or visit http://www.sohorep.org
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission