Saturday, May 14, 2016

REVIEW: Penn & Teller's gonzo magic still satisfies

Posted By on Sat, May 14, 2016 at 6:56 PM

click to enlarge REVIEW: Penn & Teller's gonzo magic still satisfies
Penn, left, and Teller

Tell someone you're going to a "magic show," and the stereotype of a top-hatted m an pulling rabbits out of hats and the more-modern image of pop-star stunt artists like Chris Angel are both likely to elicit eye rolls. 

Penn & Teller, though, are still capable of making a night of trickery and deceit a total blast after nearly four decades together. A big part of that is their winking mockery of superstar illusionists, mediums and the like throughout their live shows, like the sold-out one Friday night at Northern Quest Resort & Casino. A bigger part is the amazing series of tricks they pull off in rapid succession that leaves an audience both laughing and questioning how what they just saw was done. 

The duo are a sight — the tall, loquacious Penn and his diminutive silent partner Teller — and throughout the show Friday, they took turns doing solo bits between larger set pieces involving both their respective skills. Penn is the set-up man, telling stories and talking to audience members brought on stage to participate, while Teller seems a prop master, constantly leaving the stage to track down needed materials or to pick the "volunteers" from the audience.

The audience was involved from the get-go. The opening gag, called "Cell Fish," resulted in one man's cell phone ending up inside a sealed box in the middle of the audience — and further, inside a smelly, dead tilapia inside that sealed box. The next bit saw a little girl brought on stage to watch Teller somehow cut a sheet of polyester in half, and "miraculously" bring the sheet back together, seemingly uncut, while she watched closely. Penn's running commentary and the impressive trick made everyone in the room a believer in what Penn called the "Church of Teller." 

And so it went. There was a section dedicated to telling the audience about the "seven principles of magic," with the duo seeming to let the people in on some of the secrets of the trade even as Teller's moves were too good to keep up with. Teller turned coins into goldfish and swallowed needles before regurgitating them tied to a string, and Penn played bass and guitar, juggled broken bottles, amazed with a bit called "The Psychic Comedian" that included the whole audience, and seemingly burned an American flag inside a copy of the Bill of Rights as part of a trick and magical civics lesson.  

After 90-plus minutes of action on stage, the crowd stuck around in the lobby as the duo took photos and chatted with fans. If these Vegas veterans and skillful con artists remain active in magic, the art form is in good hands. 

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Dan Nailen

Dan Nailen is the former editor of the Inlander. He's previously written and edited for The Salt Lake Tribune, Salt Lake City Weekly, Missoula Independent, Salt Lake Magazine, The Oregonian and KUER-FM. He grew up seeing the country in an Air Force family and studied at the University of Utah and University of...