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Theater Review: “The Pajama Men: In the Middle of No One” at Woolly Mammoth

Comedy duo the Pajama Men bring their uproarious, charming show to Washington.

Shenoah Allen and Mark Chavez. Photograph courtesy of Woolly Mammoth.

Spoiler alert: We never find out why the Pajama Men, a.k.a. Mark Chavez and Shenoah Allen, are wearing pajamas. It’s all part of the great ephemeral air of mystery that surrounds In the Middle of No One, currently playing at Woolly Mammoth, along with a few other unanswered questions: Where did the alien council come from? How much do you pay a prostitute zebra? Why are these two New Mexicans so eerily good at British accents?

Chavez and Allen, who hail from Albuquerque and have been performing together ever since they met at an audition for a high school improv club in 1993, are shockingly unknown in their native land but have had several sold-out runs overseas at London’s Soho Theatre, the Sydney Opera House, and the Edinburgh Fringe. In the Middle of No One should rightfully raise their profile this side of the Atlantic. The completely bonkers fusion of comedy skits, music, and mime is loosely based around an overarching story about space travel, but you don’t need to give it too much attention. The joy instead is in watching Chavez and Allen flit from scene to scene at a breakneck pace, and observing their obvious enjoyment in doing so.

Whether embodying an alien with a talking forehead (which itself has a talking forehead), a “giveittome bird” whose squawks sound a lot like Jenna Jameson in her heyday, or a man who rips his face off and tries, pathetically, to stick it back on again, the pair benefit from having rubberized features, a keen ear for language (their fusion of Chinese and French is technically gobbledegook but sounds good enough to pass for either), and a high tolerance for grossness, as best featured in a skit where they test out their senses by licking Allen’s hand. It’s funny, ferocious, and eminently absurd. But the show also has a strange sense of sweetness to it, and a childlike appreciation for the boundless heights of imagination.

Musician Kevin Hume, who miraculously manages to not laugh once during the show, wears a faintly woeful expression while chiming in occasionally on keyboards and guitar, but he comes into his own with a performance of “Thee, Underdog” at the end of the show, an original song that has more than an air of Sufjan Stevens about it. There’s plenty to laugh at in In the Middle of No One, but these two pajama-sporting goofballs also offer a kind of nostalgic naiveté that makes their schtick the perfect holiday offering.

The Pajama Men: In the Middle of No One is at Woolly Mammoth through January 6. Tickets ($35 to $55) are available via Woolly’s website.

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