Theatre preview: Theatre in your jammies

By Ryan Pike

Pajamas aren’t typically considered very exciting. The Bananas in Pajamas–the peak of pajamas as a form of entertainment–were pretty damn annoying. With their absurdist style of sketch comedy, the Pajama Men aim to be anything but typical. After performing in Vancouver, Winnipeg, Toronto, the United Kingdom and countless dates in the United States last year, the Pajama Men make their performing debut in Calgary with a pair of shows as part of this year’s High Performance Rodeo.

“We’re really excited about coming to Calgary,” says Shenoah Allen, one-half of the pair. “I’m really excited that [High Performance Rodeo curator Michael Green] and the gang are having us out.”

Though now making waves, things didn’t start off so smoothly for the nightwear attired troupe. Allen and collaborator Mark Chavez met in high school as members of a short-lived improv team.

“We both got in and we performed one show at the air force base for the officers’ wives club and the improv team was disbanded,” he recalls.

Despite the auspicious start Allen and Chavez continued to perform together, eventually becoming writing and performing collaborators. The pair donned their jammies with their debut tour in 2000 and quickly established the look as their trademark.

“It works really well because it provides a neutral costume that is pretty subtle and can be any character,” comments Allen. “We don’t perform with sets or props or anything, so it’s nice to have the pajamas as kind of a blank canvas. It leaves a lot up to the imagination of the audience, which I think is really fun. Our work really engages the audience’s imagination because all the worlds that we create on stage, they’re kind of doing half the work and we’re hinting at what we’re doing and they fill in the blanks. We’ve written five shows in the style that we’ve developed, a sort of absurd comedy style that’s very non-linear and is comprised of a lot of different characters having bizarre interactions with each other. It’s very visceral and spontaneous.”

This style involves a fair amount of swapping between the pair to avoid typecasting either of them. In doing so they aim to keep audiences on their toes. So far the approach has met with success, as awards at Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival this past August and a new producing partnership with Chicago’s Second City Theatricals indicate.

With plenty of recent success and an innovative act–including such diverse characters as a father whose daughter loves a monster, a pair of salty spinsters, and an aristocrat with a murderous talking horse–the Pajama Men continue to push live theatre in exciting and bizarre directions. Better yet, they’re doing it in their pajamas.