Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Winners and Losers
Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Also see Susan's reviews of The Night Alive and Girlstar

James Long, left, and Marcus Youssef
Photo Courtesy of Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
If audiences are going to watch a 90-minute performance consisting of two men verbally challenging each other on a largely bare stage, the actors need to say something interesting. Luckily, Marcus Youssef and James Long hit enough targets to keep most viewers' attention in Winners and Losers, now at Washington's Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, allowing them to sneak up on their underlying theme.

The two Canadian performers—Youssef (broad-shouldered and beefy, wearing a khaki shirt and worn jeans) and Long (slimmer, wearing a black T-shirt and tailored jeans)—begin the performance while sitting at opposite ends of a table, each with a bell at hand to mark the end of the round. The game begins innocuously enough: for example, is a microwave oven a winner for its convenience or a loser because of its potential risk as a radiation source? Often the very idea of declaring a random item a winner or a loser seems ridiculous.

Eventually, however, the game of winners and losers becomes much more personal and important to the players. Youssef is the son of an Egyptian immigrant and grew up in an upper middle class family, while Long's upbringing was much rougher and he left home at 16, so they have very different definitions of who can develop "street smarts" and how to be "worldly-wise." Other disagreements arise over the treatment of First Nations (indigenous Canadian) tribes, the wariness many people show around people of Arab descent, and how much of success comes from unquestioned privilege and how much from individual agency.

The actors don't just sit at a table for the entire performance, of course. They play table tennis at one point, they wrestle briefly, and one of them leaves the stage for a few minutes. Director Chris Abraham keeps the action from becoming static.

In summation, Winners and Losers is an experiment that isn't for everyone. Audiences who put the most effort into it will get the most out of it.

Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
Winners and Losers
October 27th - November 22nd
Created and performed by Marcus Youssef and James Long
Directed by Chris Abraham
Produced by Theatre Replacement and Neworld Theatre, in association with Crow's Theatre
641 D St. N.W., Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-393-3939 or

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