Show Review: Penn & Teller – Telling Lies and Revealing Secrets

by DW Grant

?Magic is not really about the mechanics of your senses. Magic is about understanding-and then manipulating-how viewers digest sensory information,? says Raymond Joseph Teller in a recent issue of Smithsonian Magazine. And nobody manipulates the senses better than Jillette Penn and this Teller guy.

Penn & TellerTheir show, still drawing large audiences The Rio after 10 plus years, is a fun evening of manipulating and explaining and revealing and manipulating again, but you have to watch and listen carefully because they share secrets quickly and only once. To the duo?s credit, however, the tricks are still amazing and the show is lots of fun, especially when the secrets are outted.

Penn is the carnival barker; introducing and divulging and Teller is the silent Harpo, brilliantly playing off Penn?s lead in some remarkably deceiving ways. It?s almost magic, but it isn?t, insists Penn.

?There is no magic in this show, ?he declares at the beginning and end of the show, ?Whatsoever.?

Ok, I think maybe Mr. Penn is deceiving us on that one. While it is well known that Penn and Teller are both solid atheists, and are clear with their negative views about anything ?spiritual,? there is a deeper magic in this show. The entire evening of intelligent magical performance ensnares and engages an audience in its trance until both Penn and Teller release their prisoners. Maybe the magic is in the revealed truths, it is what they do, and they do it well. Or maybe they are trying to manipulate us again, this time into non-belief. I?m not sure which, but nevertheless the show wonderfully endures and captivates.

Penn promises that they will change tricks often and often will bring in new illusions, so if you think you seen this show, you deceive yourself.

The ?magic? begins even before the show starts, as every audience member is invited on stage to investigate a mysterious wooden box and sign an envelope posted on a bulletin board. Marvelous pianist Mike Jones sizzles the key board with jazz and amazing musical improvisations while the audience meanders around the theater and quiz each other about what?s on stage. You have to watch carefully to catch the meaning of the box and envelope and unlike the stars of this show I?m not going to give away secrets. I will, however, offer you more appetizers.

For instance, there is a red cell phone that has something to do with Criss Angel, a blue glove, a dead fish packed in ice, and something special under an audience member?s chair. Listen carefully to Penn recite the 7 Principles of Magic and maybe you?ll understand these manipulations and the other tricks to come.

Want more? Penn exposes ?mentalist? tricks by lending each audience member a joke book and then telling them the joke they randomly find in their books. Penn saws a woman in half, with gory results, and Penn and Teller confuse and mystify an audience member during the hilarious ?Girl in the Ring? trick. In the ?big trick? at the end of the show both Penn and Teller fire 357 Magnum hand guns at each other and catch audience inscribed bullets in their teeth. How do they do this? I?m not sure because I either missed the explanation or wasn?t told. Misdirection again.

While Penn is exposing and barking secrets Teller is mesmerizing. His performance with an obedient red ball is a lot of fun. (Thanks Penn for telling us before the sequence that it is done with a piece of string). His escape from a plastic bag filled with helium is marvelously funny, and his famous ?Shadows,? performed with a rose in a glass vase and its shadow is beautiful and mystifying.

Then there is the American Flag trick which immediately sets a patriotic audience member on edge because Penn and Teller are about as irreverent and out of the box as they come. The spoof comes off very well and very patriotically however as the manipulation reveals the performing couple?s Libertarian beliefs. Are beliefs and stage time all they share?

In an interview with Larry King, Penn has revealed that he and Teller are not friends and don?t associate with each other socially. He claims this professional relationship keeps them performing together. A crisp relationship is clear during the show as Penn plays the professor and the salesman and Teller often becomes the magic trick he is participating in, but once again the image and the words may be a manipulation. The show seems just too much fun to be performed by purely professional partners.

Even as purely professional performers Penn and Teller?s passion seems clear whenever they perform.

?One of the things that Teller and I are obsessed with, one of the reasons that we?re in magic, is the difference between fantasy and reality,? says Penn. And just for fun he adds. ?We knew that we were kind of odd and creeps, and we wanted to do odd, creepy stuff for people who wanted to see that.?

Penn and Teller have been captivating audiences for more than 35 years and their show at the Rio has been a nightly part of the Las Vegas scene for 10 years plus. Their Broadway, movie, and TV appearances on everything from The Simpsons to Top Chef and a plethora of game shows have garnered them fame and great reviews from almost every critic that can beg for free tickets. Their TV show ?Penn and Teller BS!? has also netted them 13 Emmy nominations and is the longest running production on the Showtime network. ?Penn and Teller Tell a Lie,? on the Discovery Channel, is their latest TV adventure, but seeing Penn and Teller LIVE is the diamond in the silver engagement ring. And this nuptial guarantees continual surprises.

See Penn and Teller, their magic and their creepy stuff at the Rio All Suite and Hotel Casino.

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