Saturday, November 16, 2013

Review: (Toronto) Winners and Losers

Marcus Youssef and James Long (Photo by Simon Hayter)
A dialogue we want to have, but frequently don’t…
Winners and Losers a contemplative work
by Dave Ross

It’s taken me a couple of days to think about, chew on it, and roll this play around in my mind. On one hand: we have this work by two noted playwrights and performers (Marcus Youssef and James Long); performing an autobiographical piece that works with thoughts many of us have in our friendships; directed by Chris Abraham, the recent recipient of the Siminovitch Prize. This is a trio of men who punch far above their weight, and succeed in doing so. On the other hand, we have a script that while autobiographical, seems to lack cohesion in places. It makes for a challenging think.

This play suffers terribly from what I call “program-note-itis.” My take away from this play was utterly different than what the program calls for. Reading the program notes resolved the script in some ways, but I resent having to do this. The autobiographical nature of the script, while based on real conversations is also heavily edited, and it leaves the entire piece feeling contrived yet powerful, narcissistic yet raw, forced yet natural, and overwhelmingly thrown together yet thought-out at the same time. 

Performances in this production are hard to gauge – Youssef and Long play themselves, inhabiting and performing their friendship. How does one critique the performance of self? It’s near impossible. Youssef and Long provide smooth, professional performances. However, they also seem to lack nuance in places and there are elements of the script that don’t seem to fit into the narrative of this conversation (such as the bit of physical theatre midway through). At times, their performances are believable, and utterly unconvincing in others. From a technical standpoint, and from where we were sitting in the theatre, the sound was poorly managed, and there are sections where the natural dialogue of the script has Youssef and Long talking over one another resulting in unintelligible gibberish. This works in a real conversation, but not a staged one. 

I can’t tell you if you’ll love this play, hate it, or find a lovely night out at the theatre. What I can say is that this piece does demand your attendance, if for no other reason than to explore what your friendships mean to you. 

Nov. 10 - Dec. 8

Running time: 95 minutes with no intermission

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