“It’s not describing something that’s indescribable,” says Mark Chavez of his duo, the Pajama Men, “I’m just bad at it.” But anyone who has seen Chavez and his partner, Shenoah Allen, perform would agree: Tidy summations don’t do their shows justice. The menagerie of big characters makes the evening feel like sketch, but the fluid physical transformations and transitions say it’s theater. An improvisational openness keeps things loose, but the hard jokes and final narrative payoff confirm that it’s mostly scripted. Surreal elements—horses pretending to be spray bottles while scrunched under the kitchen sink, say—blend themselves into story lines large and small. Throughout, the close partnership between Chavez and Allen anchors the chaos, never letting bits stray too far afield. And oh, yes: It’s funny.
These Albuquerque natives have been performing (in pajamas) together since they met at an improv audition in high school, and have since looped the globe several times, taking their first show to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2004. Growing up in relative comedic isolation before finding a diverse, international community of performers might have something to do with the pair’s curious sensibility, but they never set out to be the “weird black sheep,” Chavez claims. Early on, the pair strove for chaos and balked at formulaic plots; they’ve retained some of this anarchic spirit, says Allen, but have since come to see the value of straightforward storytelling.
Their latest production, Just the Two of Each of Us,
has a reluctant hero’s journey at its core: The procrastinating King Mark has 700 years to destroy an evil beast threatening his kingdom. But there’s also an enchanted sinkhole, an armless teen and some sad soul contemplating eating a spider. Like good improv, everything ties up at the end; like theater, there are arcs and themes; like stand-up, there are one-liners. The Pajama Men aren’t indescribable, no, but they’re not like anything else. The Pajama Men perform Just the Two of Each of Us at SubCulture through Feb 22.