Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
The two Canadian performersYoussef (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