Expect the unexpected from Penn & Teller

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By John G. Brokopp
Original article here.

Labeling Penn Jillette a magician is like identifying Leonardo Da Vinci an artist.

Surely smoke, mirrors and sleight-of-hand are what made Penn famous. But you can’t devote 41 plus years to the predictable without continually infusing unpredictable life and vitality into performances that have kept generations of audiences coming back for more.

Penn’s talents as a magician, writer, actor and musician combine to bring a multi-dimensional experience to the duo’s performances.

That’s exactly what Penn and “silent” partner Teller will bring to the stage Friday night at The Venue at Horseshoe Casino in Hammond.

The multi-media duo, who are stars of stage, TV, and most recently cinema, has an uncommon celebrity presence for not so much performing what has been created for them, but for creating nuances and an intellectual fervor into whatever they happen to be performing.

Penn owes much of his iconic success to the aura of respect he cultivates among his fans and theater audiences, a quality that is most assuredly returned.

This fact shines not only through the 12-year run that Penn & Teller have had in the theater named in their honor at Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, but also their CW Network reality show, “Penn & Teller: Fool Us.” The third season of the show premieres at 7 p.m. July 13.

The premise of the show is for aspiring magicians to perform their best illusion before a live audience and of course, Penn & Teller, whose task is to figure out how they did it. The stakes are high. Success means the winning magician is invited to appear in Penn & Teller’s show at The Rio.

“The show began production in England and was moved to the United States,” Penn said. “When we first started, we felt the audience was distrustful of us. It was like they thought the enjoyment was going to be watching people being treated badly, as if I was going to follow the legacy of Simon Cowell.”

Turns out that wasn’t the case at all. “Penn & Teller: Fool Us” is a ratings hit for the CW network.

“Fact is, in magic you are either going to be fooled or you’re not. Part of the appeal of magic is to like being fooled. Teller and I love being fooled,” Penn said.

“That came through with us and our host for the first two seasons, Jonathan Ross, whom we hated to lose for the upcoming third season. But our new host, Alyson Hannigan, is great. She brings a ‘wide-eyed wonder to what we do, and it was truly nice to see how much she enjoyed herself.”

Penn recently wrote the screenplay for the movie “Director’s Cut,” a crowd-funded production directed by Adam Rifkin in which Penn also appears.

The film is scheduled for two weeks of screening, Friday through July 21, at Gene Siskel Film Center of the School of the Art Institute in Chicago, 168 N. State Street.

“I worked 10 to 12 years writing the script and I was honored for the direction of the film to be done by Adam Rifkin, whom I regard as the finest director of this century,” Penn said.

“Director’s Cut” is simply described as a film-within-a-film, but that gives little justice to a cinematic production that takes audiences far beyond the realm of prevailing reason.

“The audience will give their complete trust to the voice they hear narrating the film,” Penn said. “It’s very intimate. The movie plays out in a pure way about people appropriating other people’s work.

“To bring this gut-level feeling to my screenplay took a man like Alan Rifkin. A film maker like him needs to have that talent. I don’t have it.”

For more information and ticket prices for the screenings, visit siskelfilmcenter.org/directorscut.

Penn recently finished yet another script for what he describes as a “straight forward horror movie” which he is going to present to Rifkin.

What keeps Penn engaged in regular performances of what now is the longest-running headline show in Las Vegas?

“I enjoy going home, spending time with my family, my children, sharing meals with them, and taking a few hours to read and to write,” he said. “It’s what Penn & Teller do.”

FYI: Penn & Teller will perform at 8 p.m. Friday at The Venue at Horseshoe Casino, 777 Casino Center Drive, Hammond. Tickets are $29 to $59. Visit horseshoehammond.com