The act is full of contrasts. One (Penn) is tall (real tall) and the other (Teller) appears short (in comparison). One (Penn) is bombastic and loud and does all of the talking while the other (Teller) remains silent. Beyond the initial contrasts, both are intelligent, accomplished and entertaining magicians. The show works because of the personalities of Penn and Teller. And despite being silent, Teller manages to connect with audiences.
The show is mostly a collection of stand-alone mini-acts. One mini-act finishes, the stage goes dark, and the next one begins - sometimes with both or just Teller on stage. One moment it’s a bit of bewildering mentalism with lots of audience interaction. In another, it’s an illusion with gore and shock value. And many offer whimsical bits of fancy, both light and dark. This is not a conventional magic or illusion show. There are lots of surprises and unexpected turns. The pair closes the show with an amazing double, bullet-catching routine.
Penn and Teller - earlier billed as the “bad boys of magic” - have been controversial in the world of magic. Once criticized for exposing magic secrets early in their careers, these days, the pair still perform what probably amounts to exposure - for example, their cups and balls routine with clear cups - but I hardly think that the lay audience is any wiser after watching the routine. The pair no longer poke fun at and belittle the magic community and seem to have found a comfortable ground for them to confront and entertain.
Beyond the creative and edgy magic, some of the concepts and writing are sheer brilliance. Their routine with the American flag and the Bill of Rights - on the night that I saw the show (they often change material) - was a stroke of genius with a thought-provoking point.
Penn and Teller perform at the Rio and their show is mid-priced. At times, you can get reduced-priced tickets the day of the show. It’s a great experience from a pair of accomplished pros that most often forget are actually brilliant magicians.