Marcus Youssef (left) and James Long take debate to a whole new level in Winners and Losers

Marcus Youssef (left) and James Long take debate to a whole new level in Winners and Losers

Winners and Losers: It’s game on in Vernon

Marcus Youssef and James Long will win or lose when they play themselves at the Vernon Performing Arts Centre March 3.

“Heads, you win; tails, you lose.”

“It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.”

“Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.”

These are just a few of the mantras Marcus Youssef and James Long have been living by for the past few years as they play their made-up game, Winners and Losers, in front of a live audience.

Mostly scripted with some improv thrown in, the Governor-General award nominated play of the same name arrives at the Vernon Performing Arts Centre Thursday, March 3 at 7:30 p.m.

Making its world premiere in 2012 at Gateway Theatre Studio B in Richmond, Winners and Losers follows Youssef and Long, two dads and lifelong friends, as they play themselves and the game they invented, in which they name people, places and things and debate whether they are winners or losers.

“Think of it as a play where you’re watching real life unfold,” said Performing Arts Centre artistic director Erin Kennedy, who saw the show in Ottawa three years ago and wanted to bring it to Vernon.

“It’s like watching reality TV. You can’t help but ask yourself, ‘is this scripted or is it unravelling in front of me?’ It makes the show so riveting. I was on the edge of my seat watching it.”

What makes the 90 minute play exciting to watch is the relevant, and sometimes irrelevant, subject matter the men debate and argue about.

“They talk about current news items,” said Kennedy. “When they come to a town, they get the lay of the land and work it into the show. They look at current topics to discuss. Sometimes they do take suggestions from the audience.”

The play usually starts out pretty light, such as when the men debate whether Tom Cruise is a winner or loser.

“They each pick a side and whomever wins dings the bell,” said Kennedy.

However, the play, and debates, get more heated as time goes on, with the topics varying from microwave ovens, their fathers, rainforests, druids, etc.

As they seek to defeat one another, the debate becomes highly personal. They dissect each other’s individual, familial and class histories and their truths and biases are revealed with ruthless candour.

The play prompted one 17-year-old audience member in London, England to exclaim: “Two Canadian men argued… It was brilliant!”

“The guys, who were interviewed on CBC’s North by Northwest recently, said that when they first started touring the show, they would really get mad at one another,” added Kennedy.

The production also has some local ties. It is stage managed by Elia Kirby, whose father is Paul Kirby, one of the founders of Caravan Farm Theatre who is now with the Caravan Stage Company, which does travelling theatre around the world on the deck of a tall ship.

Youssef and Long also have a Caravan connection. They are artistic directors of their own theatre companies – Youssef with Neworld Theatre and Long with Theatre Replacement – which were both part of the production Everyone that staged at the Spallumcheen-based farm theatre in the summer of 2010.

“James does verbatim theatre, which is documentary-style theatre, where the subject interviewed is what is used in the script, while Marcus does creation-based theatre, which is from the imagination,” said Kennedy.

Winners and Losers is directed by Chris Abraham, with Crow’s Theatre in Toronto, who also directed Seeds, which came to Vernon Feb. 6.

Tickets are $25 (all seats – recommended age is 16-plus years), available at the Ticket Seller box office, 250-549-7469, www.ticketseller.ca.