Emilia Di Luca
Two chairs and two men—in pajamas. With a simple set and even simpler costumes, you may wonder: where does this comedy show take its audience? The answer is: anywhere and everywhere.
The Pajama Men and their show Pterodactyl Nights headline at The Theatre Centre for this year’s Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival, celebrating its 10th anniversary. Hailing from Albuquerque, New Mexico, the award-winning improv duo Shenoah Allen and Mark Chavez slip into a variety of characters and situations, leaving the audience howling with laughter.
The most memorable of characters highlights the diversity of the show: Allen shifts from a southern divorcée to Jenny, a teenage daughter who happens to meet her long-lost love Dan (played by Chvez) while travelling with her recently divorced father. Oh, and she is possessed by the devil. Allen’s range, vocally and physically, is astounding.
Chevez astounds the audience just the same. His awkward office-needs-supply employee bit and his unforgettable portrayal of a Latina leading a self-help group while fighting off a clingy ex-boyfriend are brilliant, hilarious and a must-see.
But the duo, unsurprisingly, is at its best together. Considering Allen and Chavez met in 1993 while in high school auditioning for an improv team, the pair developed an undeniable chemistry fueling creativity onstage and laugher in the audience.
Throwing on a variety of accents, they transform from one ethnicity and gender to another. The long-time friends go from a couple of Latinas to rednecks to African Americans. However, Allen and Chevez don’t stop there.
The improve duo even work together to form single characters. Using their hands and voices, Allen and Chavez become a horse and an alien. They make it easy for the audience to use their imaginations and see the characters improvised from only the actors’ hands and voices.
The funniest moments are, however, the most genuine ones. By the end, the duo creates a “two headed-monster that knows all” and answers questions from the audience. The catch: Allen and Chavez have to speak at the same time. As Allen and Chavez face each other to begin every word in unison, you see each slip out of character and into a genuine smile. Those smiles seem to reveal their love for the creative challenges they take on and overcome together.
While the show does not have a conventional structure and jumps from character to character, the performance builds and builds. The pace quickens, highlighting the pair's endurance. The sign of the true success of the Pajama Men is not only the audible chuckles from the audience, but the silence of viewers admiring their creativity.