At the River Rock Show Theatre on Friday, June 11
It had been 18 years since Penn & Teller last set foot in Vancouver, but it was well worth the wait. The pair put on a magical show at the River Rock on Friday.
Okay, fair enough, they’re magicians; that’s what they do. But it was beyond magic. There’s no glitz and glamour, no pseudo-mystical nonsense or grandiose waves of the hands. Yet the show is beautiful. First off, it’s damn funny, as anyone who’s ever seen them on TV, film, or stage knows. And the tricks are amazing. But there’s a real art and arc to the stage performance too.
Generally, Penn Jillette, the tall mouthy one, provides the patter while Teller (his full legal name), the short silent one, provides the awe, although Jillette had many awe-inspiring moments himself and Teller even spoke (once).
The guys, who have been an act for 35 years now, are interactive too. More than half of the tricks involved an audience member, which always bumps the how-the-hell-did-they-do-that? feeling up a notch. Take the first trick of the night: Penn and Teller walk on-stage. Teller is wearing a thick, heavy box over his head. Penn brings a woman up from the crowd, takes her glasses, and puts them in his breast pocket. After some jokes and purposely stupid tricks, he goes to retrieve the specs from his pocket and they’re gone. Nothing too spectacular so far. But when Penn grabs a hammer and smashes the box around Teller’s head, guess who’s wearing the woman’s glasses? You got it.
And they were just getting warmed up. As Penn told us in a famous routine, the seven basic principles of magic are palming, ditching, stealing, loading, simulation, misdirection, and switch. Even if we’re not familiar with all the terms, everyone’s seen enough magic, good and bad, to know the tricksters are just pulling a fast one on us. And Penn and Teller will be the first to tell us there ain’t no such thing as real magic.
So when, in one unbelievable feat, an audience member was transformed in front of our eyes, sitting on a chair uncovered, into Teller, all we could do was give our heads a shake that we were so easily manipulated. Are we such sheep that even when we know the magician’s job is to misdirect us, we follow along? It’s infuriatingly satisfying seeing such masters in action.
There were also some understated gems in the show, such as Teller’s silent bizarro shadow trick, where the shadow affects reality instead of vice versa. And in true Penn & Teller fashion, the black-and-white effect finishes in bright red.
And there was the ending, where Penn sits in subdued lighting, candle in hand. He said they don’t want us thinking about how they did certain tricks; they want us thinking about why. Unlike many others in their profession, there is a reason to their act beyond entertainment. Jillette, never one to shy away from an opinion, performed an incredible trick exposing “phony psychics”, a phrase he says is redundant. Calling them “predators who pounce on people with their parlour tricks” and “criminals”, he did fake hot and cold readings that would have had us believing in the occult if he weren’t so honest.
The underlying purpose of all their glorious tricks is to expose shamans and get the masses to think critically while still marvelling at the duo’s craft. Still, it’s fun to wonder exactly how they did it.