Winners & Losers is invigorating, hilarious, infuriating, and it may very well have you examining your own friendships and the beliefs you hold on everything from the plight of the First Nations in Canada to Beyoncé’s recent video.

Sitting at opposite ends of a long table, Marcus Youssef and James Long discuss a wide range of topics, categorizing them as either winners or losers. Microwave ovens, Goldman Sachs, Stephen Hawking, and even masturbation make an appearance in this quick 90 minutes. Often times they ring one of two bells sitting on the table as they come to a conclusion whether something is a winner or a loser.

Under the direction of Chris Abraham, while the table may evoke a boardroom or kitchen table where such discussions might take place, the action is anything but static. Initially setting the stage with a chalk outline of a box, it becomes a metaphor for both a boxing ring, and a visual representation of the lines in which they cross. The two move about the space, and even participate in physical competitions along with the mental one.

At the top of the show there is topical content including a discussion on the No Tower initiative currently playing out in The Cultch’s neighbourhood, where the show is currently playing. Even more current was a discussion on the provincial Liberal government’s budget that was announced that very day (“It makes sense because you can fund it by raising MSP premiums”, says Long of the Prosperity Fund).

From the current affairs opening, Winners & Losers then moves into areas that have been covered in past performances, and this is where it gets most interesting.

Many times through the evening Youssef and Long give us the impression that what they are saying is improvised. But while there may be spontaneous moments, it doesn’t take much investigation to discover that much of the content is, if not fully, at least partially scripted. Not that there is anything wrong with that, it is theatre after all. The result is an almost meta layer to the experience, and coupled with their well-reasoned arguments and the personal stories they tell between, the evening becomes great fuel for examinations or our own beliefs.

As the play progresses the separation between reality and theatrics becomes even more blurred. In its final section, Youssef and Long ask the biggest question of the night: are they winners or losers? Each must answer the question of the other. Interestingly, it is here where the sense of spontaneity and improvisation gives way to a more scripted feel. Because it feels like performance, it doesn’t have quite the same resonance; it is a small price to pay though when taken as part of the whole.

Ultimately, and perhaps most surprising, Winners & Losers is not about who is victorious, but in discovering whether a friendship is strong enough for Youssef and Long to do it all again tomorrow night.

Winners & Losers created and performed by Marcus Youssef and James Long. Directed by Chris Abraham. A Theatre Replacement and Neworld Theatre production, presented by The Cultch. On stage at The Cultch’s Historic Theatre (1895 Venables St, Vancouver) until February 27. Visit http://thecultch.com for tickets and information.

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