Theater Review: “The Pajama Men: Just the Two of Each of Us” at Woolly Mammoth
The zany comedy duo return to Woolly for a second year.
A king and his Igor-esque sidekick, two gossipy girlfriends (one of who’s lacking an arm), a couple on the verge of a breakup, and an Antonio Banderas type on a motorcycle. These are just a few of the characters whose disparate story lines become woven together in The Pajama Men: Just the Two of Each of Us. The improv-heavy collaboration between Albuquerque-born comedy team Mark Chavez and Shenoah Allen (along with musician Kevin Hume) is consistently inventive, even if every twist and turn doesn’t prove to be comically or dramatically satisfying.
The style of the pair, who are performing for the holidays for the second year in a row at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, is very physical and fast-paced. At first, the characters they embody seem so completely random and unconnected that it’s hard to fully engage with Just the Two of Each of Us. But once the story’s uniting thread becomes clear (it all has to do with a deadly, 700-year-old monster, believe it or not), it’s easier to settle into the rhythm of the performance. The show has no set, and the pair’s costumes consist of their titular PJs (Why are they wearing them? We never learn, and it doesn’t really matter).
Chavez and Allen met when auditioning for an improv group in high school and have officially been a team since 2000. As a result, they have an effortless rapport, and it’s a joy to watch them volley jokes between each other (the straight-faced Hume, providing both general sound effects and folky accompaniment songs, is a fine complement to the duo). Chavez’ propensity to break character and slip into laughter can be frustrating for those wary of comedians who giggle at their own jokes, but Woolly’s audience seemed to eat it up Wednesday evening.
Some of The Pajama Men’s characters and gags are more amusing than others. Particularly hilarious: the groaner-happy deadpan newscasters and their animal expert interview subject, that motorcycle-driving hero with the catchphrase, “Too Easy!”, and any gag involving the constantly-evolving, ever-ridiculous name of the medieval theme park where much of the play’s action is set. It’s particularly fun to see the actors push a sketch further than it needs to go (this leads to hijinks such as Chavez smacking Allen’s ass about 47 times in a row). In general, The Pajama Men clearly seem to be having a blast up on stage, which goes a long way towards boosting the effectiveness of their zippy performance.
Just the Two of Each of Us is at Woolly Mammoth through Jan. 5. Running time: A little over an hour with no intermission. Tickets ($35-$82) are available via Woolly’s website.