Review: Penn and Teller live show is part comedy, part magic

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Penn and Teller

Over the weekend, Penn and Teller stopped by the MGM Grand Theater at Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket, CT. I bought tickets to this event for my boyfriend as part of his Christmas gift, after he went through a phase where he was marathoning the duo's Showtime program with a name that's somewhat inappropriate for this blog. (It sounds like "bull pit" though!)

Personally, I've never had strong feelings about Penn and Teller one way or another. Prior to Saturday, I knew only what I'd gathered from half-watching their show. I knew I liked their logo, a red ampersand. I also knew one of them was super tall and loud, while the other was short and silent. I did not know who was who and my understanding of their schtick was that they sort of did magic (maybe?) but they really liked trying to dispel myths about things.

Here's what I, a semi-indifferent viewer, thought of the show (and if you want to see a review of their Vegas show, check out Mike's piece!):

Pre-Show Experience

Getting there: My GPS is so old and crochety that it wouldn't give me directions to Foxwoods... mostly because it didn't even recognize "Mashantucket" as an actual town in Connecticut. (It's possible I should get a new GPS.) So we ended up running late, thereby turning us into "those people." Which I hate. Strike one.

Parking: Because the show was on a Saturday, parking was a bit of a nightmare. Strike two.

Getting to our seats: Can I really be irritated at ushers who couldn't help us find our seats in a pitch black theater after the show has already started? Yes. Can I be more irritated that the guy I had to sit next to was smelly? Double yes. Strike three, which might have otherwise been a cue for me to ditch the plans, but since we were already sitting down, we stuck around. Thankfully!

Penn and Teller Live

About the show: Literally nothing I mentioned above has anything to do with Penn and Teller, but I wanted to give you a feel for how my night was going up till that point — not great. And yet, it only took a few minutes of watching Penn and Teller live before I started to feel a lot better. There's something about the idea of going to a "magic show" that ignites the part of you that totally still wants to be a kid.

Truthfully, I wasn't sure what to expect going into it. What I got was a show that was part comedy, part "magic," part audience participation, and a lot of fun. The duo is very open and honest about the fact that this is not a magic show. At least, not in the traditional sense, where they're trying to mystify the audience and make us believe they possess some otherworldly power. During the show, Penn says (several times) that these are illusions, not tricks, and any "magician" who says otherwise is probably a jerk (his words, not mine).

Because of that, I'm not sure I'd bring young kids, especially if those kids still believe in magic (and who wouldn't want to believe that?!) or if they're sensitive to mild swearing. Lucky for me, I am neither a young kid nor am I bothered by mild swearing, so I loved it. I even enjoyed the cringe-worthy moments, like when Teller swallows a big handful of very sharp pins, only to pull them out of his mouth and throat one by one via thread. Or when Penn eats fire. On stage. (Spoiler alert: he doesn't die!)

Each illusion is different, depending on whether the audience is involved, if it's one of them conducting the segment alone, or if it's a joint effort. Because of that, they all have a different "feel." Teller swallowing the pins, for example, feels like an old-school magic trick, while one segment involving a nail gun had me on the edge of my seat. (Logically, I knew nothing bad would happen, but there is a tiny grandmother in my brain that gasps and says things like "You're gonna get ya'self killed doing that!")

If you follow Penn and Teller closely then there is a chance you might have already seen one or two of their illusions. That said, if you're anything like me, seeing things live is always a hundred times better than watching them on TV. Some tricks are new, too, and audience participation helps keep the show fresh, as neither Penn nor Teller can predict how the volunteers will react.

Conclusion: If you already like Penn and Teller, if you agree with their philosophical views (namely that magic/psychics/mediums don't exist), and if you don't mind political talk (there wasn't too much at my show, but there was an illusion that involved almost-but-not-actual-flag-burning), then I'd absolutely recommend the show. It's fun, it's light, and their illusions really are amazing. Penn and Teller don't take themselves very seriously, which I think is a refreshing quality in performers. Plus: they hang around after the show to meet with and talk to fans. I'd totally go again.

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