(Long (r) and Youssef (photo credit: Simon Hayter)
by Chad Dembski
I can’t think of a better way to review the Festival TransAmériques show from Vancouver “Winners and Losers” than:
Why Winners and Losers is a Loser.
“Winners and Losers” is a loser because it attempts throughout to being authentic and thought up on the spot when it is mostly set. Although setting a theatre piece is one of cornerstones of what you are actually supposed to do it doesn’t always translate well into a performance arena. A simple show where topics (of all natures) are brought up for discussion and argued between the two performers, Jamie Long and Marcus Youssef, it seems natural maybe to let a majority of it be contemporary and completely change every night. The setting of the answers seems to stifle the beginning of the show, holding back these highly energetic and charismatic performers who seem to have a lot more to say than what they are letting out. Major topics such as the Canadian Senate, Africa, and the First Nations get a light touch but a superficial touch where a real discussion could actually take place. At the half way point I became bored with the “game”, which didn’t seem to really have rules, or the rules were not being followed. I was hoping for more personal touches that were only beginning to come through and then….
Personal details begin to seep into the piece, the direction of the conversation goes from the two performers against each other to speaking to the audience directly. A tone changes in the piece and we’re suddenly sunk into tender, heartbreaking and beautiful tales of growing up both poor and rich, absent parents, and illness (mental and physical). While more outside topics are brought into the room (Tom Cruise, Microwaves, masturbation) it seems too late, a personal line has been crossed by the performers and they need to say more, need to know more, and need to win. They continue to push each other's buttons, bringing in a rawness, awkwardness and honesty that is breathtaking at times. It broke through a therapy on stage feeling into a late night drinking session where all bullshit was thrown away and two performers attempt to get to the core of the weaknesses of each other. This show could teach any reality TV show how to be authentic (even if they are acting, are they?) and how to get at real topics in a way that truly surprises. Near the end I was reflecting on my life in a way I never have in the theatre, in a way that made me feel like both a winner and a loser. This is why “Winners and Losers” is a winner, it takes a risk to fail and be a loser and in that way it will always be a winner to me.
Decision: “Winnners and Losers” is a winner.