A pin that gets dropped on the floor; the psychotic ghost of a teenage girl; a magician with superhuman card-shuffling abilities; and a pair of camp bandits who prance their way to escape.
Above are just a few of the characters played by The Pajama Men in their live show The Last Stand to Reason, filmed and released on DVD last August. You might think that such surreal parts require really elaborate costumes, sets and a large team of actors for them to work on-stage.
Well, no. The Pajama Men are just two guys, New Mexicans Shenoah Alleh and Mark Chavez, wearing nothing but pyjamas. They strip down theatre to its bare essentials, using only two chairs as props and occasional backing music from singer-songwriter Kevin Hume. The rest of their show relies entirely on the strength of their abilities as performers, which is exceptional. With just their expressions and mannerisms, they can convincingly evoke such oddball characters in downright bizarre scenarios and easily stimulate your imagination into providing the surrounding imagery.
At first the show appears to be a series of sketches based around passengers on a train journey. Eventually they form into a somewhat coherent story, but that’s hardly the point. Along the way, they indulge in a mixture of word play, extended monologues, genre parodies, character comedy and physical humour. What’s particularly fun is the rapport between Allen and Chavez when they improvise and stretch out their routines just that little bit further in search for more laughs.
I ordered a copy of the DVD not long after seeing their 2011 show In the Middle of Nowhere at the Assembly Hall at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Having known next to nothing about their act or the show other than hearing people raving about it and reading some extremely positive online comments, I took a gamble and bought a ticket. It was worth it. I left the theatre feeling that I had witnessed magic, brutally hilarious magic. It’s terribly clichéd to use the term ‘blown away’, but that’s exactly what happened, and it took a couple of hours for the giddiness I was feeling to subside. Judging by the spontaneous standing ovation at the end, I was not alone in these feelings.
So, with such ridiculously high expectations, this DVD was bound to disappoint a little. There does seem to be something lost when their act is translated to film, although it’s hard to really specify what. Although the duo’s originality is one of the best qualities, it’s also something of a hindrance to them finding a wider audience, as their act is so difficult to classify and can only be properly experienced in a live setting. That said, the filmed show remains extremely funny and will do well to give them more exposure.
Incidentally, their 2011 show In the Middle of Nowhere is still on tour in the UK this autumn. Obviously I urge everyone to try and see it, but if you can’t this DVD is a fine substitute.