A few months ago, Nick Cearley and Lauren Molina, the Skivvies, performed in their underwear at the City Theatre. This weekend, on the very same property, Shenoah Allen and Mark Chavez perform in their pajamas. The City Theatre has always had a casual and intimate ambiance, but this is getting ridiculous. Speaking of ridiculous, Allen and Chavez certainly packed up plenty of ridiculousness for their trip to Pittsburgh.
The zany duo brings their multi-character sort-of scripted show to the main stage. The show is only partially scripted, but there is a through line; the action centers around a centuries-old king, his dark wizardly man-servant, two disaffected female village idiots, sinkhole investigators, a man and his motorcycle, a tremendous beast as well as a whole host of additional characters. Pay attention, because Allen and Chavez continually shift and morph into a myriad of characters and creatures. If you have Attention Deficit Disorder, this isn’t the show for you.
There are a few moments of laugh-out-loud craziness. Even when it’s difficult to follow, it’s still funny. Except there’s something about seeing two men in their pajamas playing on stage that is a little disconcerting. It’s like watching two kids in their bedroom playing, especially since the story involves castles, magic and monsters. It’s a little creepy.
Allen and Chavez are extremely talented. With a flick of a wrist, a wry sideways glance, or a fast-wagging finger the men transform from one absurd character to the next. Several characters were funnier than others. There is a moment, when Chavez is pulling Allen’s leg out of a bear trap/crown (don’t ask) that seems to stretch out too long, but, suddenly, the bit gets funnier and funnier with each bang of a gun, each slap on the ass (I told you not to ask).
Is the show funny? The performers certainly are. Some of the most genuinely funny moments come when the performers comment on their involvement in the craziness. It’s metatextual madness! A particular bit revolves around a one-armed woman and her prosthetic. There were also big laughs when the duo break character and laugh at each other. Think “The Carol Burnett Show.”
However, there is one unfortunate gag that opened the show. Right after a series of witty one-liners spoken directly to the audience, the duo transports themselves to a somewhat-ancient land. King Mark (Chavez) orders his man-servant Leopold (Allen) to behead a townsperson. A beheading that is meant to be funny, but the recent events in the news take the segment from merely morose to macabre. The gag almost led to actual gagging as Allen has difficulty sawing off the head of his imagined victim. It threw the show off-kilter, making it difficult to laugh (Reviewer’s Note: I was listening to Diane Foley, the mother of journalist James Foley, on NPR on the way to the show). Maybe they should poison, shoot or otherwise eradicate their foe. Suggestion: Toss the dude into a vat of piranha or feed him to the lions.
Chavez and Allen are from Albuquerque, New Mexico: America’s funniest sounding city. They may even be the funniest exports from the aforementioned Land of Enchantment since Mike Judge (creator of “Beavis and Butthead,” “Office Space,” etc…) and Marc Maron (WTF podcast). It seems a shame to fly Chavez and Allen into town when Pittsburgh is littered with hilarious improv and sketch performers. You can’t trip at the Arcade, SCIT or Harvard and Highland without falling on top of one.
To be fair, comedy may be a particular axe this reviewer grinds. It stings a little to see a full house come out and support strangers when the locals are doing hilarious shows to nearly empty houses.
Humor is most certainly subjective. One audience member next to me said, “My sides hurt from laughing!” I chuckled, I chortled, I even guffawed once or twice, but I’m not likely to point my thumb enthusiastically upward, but I wouldn’t cut off their heads, either.
You can find “The Pajama Men: For Just the Two of Us” at The City Theater, 1300 Bingham Street, Pittsburgh through September 7.