Thursday, January 31, 2013

Review: (Vancouver) Winners and Losers (PuSh)

(photo credit: Simon Hayter)
Brutal Brawl of Words and Feelings
Sneak Attack 
by David C. Jones 

The PuSh Festival is all about stepping over the line, about taking risks. Themes emerging so far this year are about the tyranny of aging/death and man vs man in a struggle to thrive. Sometimes they pack an emotional wallop and other times intent not always clear. A couple of the shows have laid groundwork that seems less than compelling, then it sneaks up behind you and punches you in the heart.

Winners and Losers did that and it was entirely unexpected. Although its purpose is not immediately clear one cannot discount the visceral last half of the show. A co-production between Theatre Replacement, New World Theatre and Crows Theatre, the show was written and performed by actors Marcus Youssef and James Long, directed by Chris Abraham.

The mental sparring is akin to watching a wrestling match

The premise is simple. Two men are seated at opposite ends of a table and they each have a bell. At the beginning they draw a large chalk square and then they step into the ‘ring’ and debate what things can be deemed winners and what things can be declared losers; like a dinner party game.

In fact it is a sort of rougher version of My Dinner With André.  They drink beer,  kid and cajole each other on the merits of things like Zoophiles, Mexico, Love Thy Enemy, and Microwaves. They take personal pot-shots at each other's upbringing and class;  it feels very improvised. The dialogue clips along and they often appear to riff on slips of the tongue “An Arab Burt Reynolds would be Omar Sharif”.

They start getting more revealing and intimate, opening up to the audience about masturbation techniques and their families. The stage is stark, there are two full bags casually tossed in the corners from which they retrieve ping-pong paddles and other props.

The casualness - although funny and charming - seems to meander but as they remind us,  they are opponents and as the table is pushed back, the debates and rages turn very personal and often cruel. They challenge each other about privilege, purpose, opportunity and avoidance. It becomes uncomfortable and the audience’s laughter is hushed.

The mental sparring is akin to watching a wrestling match - they actually do wrestle at one point. You get caught up as they use the information - dropped so casually earlier in the evening - as weapons. Where it all leads is fascinating in an almost sadistic way.

What a unique and heady night of theatre, unusual and a little upsetting but also exhilarating. Not everyone’s idea of a perfect dinner party but I was glad I accepted the invitation.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are moderated. Please read our guidelines for posting comments.