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Miracle Smirkers 

Madonna and child.
  • Madonna and child.
They perform miracles nightly, claims Penn Jillette, the more talkative member of the magic/comedy duo Penn and Teller. "We have been doing magic together for 25 years and are so sick of it we could spit," he says. "So, in the new show, we have moved into the field of religion and are performing real miracles."

Well, if making a rabbit disappear in a mulcher and shuffling a deck of cards with a forklift count as miracles, Penn and Teller are some kind of messiahs. Their combination of smarmy comedy and even more smarmy trickery has elevated the art of the coin trick beyond smoke-and-mirrors razzle-dazzle. "The backbone of Vegas magic is to find women or endangered species and use them as props," Jillette says. "People come to our show looking to have a little more content in their magic."

Not that Penn and Teller have anything against Sin City. They relocated to Las Vegas a few years ago "after Giuliani decided to sell New York to Disney for a theme park," Jillette says. "I think we're in a very different market" from other magicians, he says. "If you look in Vegas, you'll see that Lance Burton and Siegfried and Roy's advertisements are telling people that this is what they're going to see: tuxedos, birds, cocked eyebrows, glitter, and tigers. Our ads? Two guys in matching gray suits."

Yet, it's that hip, satirical, and uncomplicated approach to magic that has made the team so enduring. In addition to the countless talk shows they visit every year, Penn and Teller have become sitcom regulars, guesting on everything from Friends to The Drew Carey Show to Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. Plus, Jillette points out, "we are the only [magicians] who do little operettas about Houdini coming back from the dead to explain to people that there is no life after death, and have a six-minute monologue with a balloon full of blood about the frailty of human existence."

If this all seems a bit too heady for such an escapist medium, Jillette's intellectualizing of his art is at least passionate: "If you would have asked me ten years ago where magic would be going, I would have said without a doubt that most magicians would have moved into dealing with irony straightforwardly and changing from fantasy to a whimsical, funny, and amazing exploration of information management. But they didn't. It's still just me and my creepy little partner."

-- Michael Gallucci

Penn and Teller perform at the Palace Theatre Friday at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $24.75 and $29.75 and are available at the Playhouse Square Box Office and at all Advantix outlets, or by calling 800-766-6048.

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