Penn & Tellervision

Just what do these guys think they are doing? That's the question that Penn & Teller bring to mind. Is it comedy, magic or performance art? Are they there to entertain or to make fools of the crowd? Are they cheerful hustlers or maybe agents of some dark force? If there are answers to these questions, they will be on display this Thursday through Saturday night at Scottsdale Center for the Arts.

Since 1975, P. & T. have been performing their unique brand of anti-magic on any stage that would have them. Penn Jillette, a former juggler, got together with Teller (just Teller), a former high school Latin teacher, to deflate the pretensions of the professional magic world. Both performers had a way with prestidigitation and a real hatred for the then-popular Doug Henning approach to performance. Henning's wide-eyed and childlike, "explore the wondrous world of illusion" New Age shtick seemed to the pair to be the worst sort of fraud. They proceeded to develop an act that involved revealing the trickery behind well-known magic routines, while still exhibiting, in a dozen ways, just how easy it is for us to be manipulated.

Their own description of the partnership is "a couple of eccentric guys who do cool things together." Penn Jillette is a towering guy with a repartee--indeed, he never shuts up. His ongoing monologue is particularly handy because his diminutive partner Teller never speaks a word. The act includes lots of familiar "magic" bits all performed with their trademark twisted edge. Simple card tricks become potentially lethal when Jillette has only seconds to guess a card before his partner can be freed from submersion in the inescapable water tank of death. Or perhaps it'll be the wood chipper that Teller will be forced into if the big guy doesn't come up with the three of clubs. Penn & Teller perform that wood-chipper bit in white togas for maximum blood-splatter effect, by the way, and that sucker is loud. You can almost hear it over Penn's voice.

--David Gofstein

Penn & Teller are scheduled to perform at 8 p.m. Thursday, November 5; 8 p.m. Friday, November 6; and 5 and 9 p.m. Saturday, November 7, at Scottsdale Center for the Arts, 7380 East Second Street. Tickets range from $23 to $28. 994-2787 (SCA), 784-4444 (Ticketmaster).

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David Gofstein