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Penn and Teller delight in The Refrigerator Tour



Starring Penn Jillette and Teller.

Colonial Theatre through March 3.

Wednesday, Jan. 20, 8 pm.


PENN AND TELLER are not your run-of-the-mill magicians. As you might have seen on television, in movies, or in assorted magazine and newspaper articles, they are two guys who enjoy fooling people -- and then, just for kicks, showing those people how they were fooled.

Their latest venture, dubbed Penn and Teller: The Refrigerator Tour, opens with, quite appropriately, a refrigerator being dropped on top of them from a height of about 20 feet. All right, so it just looks like the refrigerator is dropped on them. But that illusion begins a program which is exciting, funny and thoroughly entertaining.

The striking contrast between Penn and Teller is half the fun. Penn Jillette (his real name) is over six feet tall, speaks in a loud, booming voice, insults the audience as if he were doing them a favor, and brags about the fact that he's expecting to go to hell.

Teller, on the other hand, only goes by his last name, is almost completely silent during the show. The former Latin professor now spends his time swallowing needles, holding his breath in water-filled telephone booths, and grabbing food out of animal traps.

Several of the presentations were extraordinary: "Liftoff to Love/Ripoff of Love," in which Penn disassembles (and then reassembles) Teller, is a very funny spoof of magicians who need loud rock music and violent pelvic thrusts to keep the attention of an audience. After going through the trick much as any other magician would do, Penn produces a set of props which allow the audience to see exactly how the trick is done -- a cardinal sin for most magicians, but nothing special for Penn and Teller.

My other favorite was a new trick, which they called "By Buddha, This Duck is Immortal!" Penn tells the story of an amazing immortal duck he found while eating in a Chinese restaurant. The duck appears on stage moments later. To test the duck's resilience, Penn places the duck in a paper bag, and crushes it under an anvil. Needless to say, the duck is unhurt. ("The Amazing Mortal Duck" probably would not be worth putting on stage.) Just to prove that we weren't paying attention to what they were doing, Penn performs the trick again -- this time, at a much faster pace.

For those of you who were wondering, "Mofo, the Psychic Gorilla" does indeed return in The Refrigerator Tour. Mofo, the talking gorilla who can do card tricks and read minds, performs with some of the best humor exhibited in the show. Part of the fun was the fact that most of the audience realized what was going on before the people on stage did -- a refreshing feeling, after having been conned for the better part of an hour.

There were two old favorites in the performance. In "A Card Trick," they give an old trick ("pick a card, any card") a new, and somewhat gruesome, twist. And in "Quotation of the Day," Penn and Teller manage, through some sleight-of-hand, to predict which book of the Bible will be chosen by children with darts and huge dice thrown from the back of the theater.

Penn and Teller also performed what they called "Two Modern Fakir Tricks," which they described as modern-day versions of what someone might see on the street in India. These tricks, while some of the simplest of the evening, were also some of the most elegant and entertaining.

The award for simplicity and elegance, however, must go to Teller, for his performance in "Shadows." His pruning of a flower by cutting its shadow was (appropriately) short and silent, making it stand out even more from the rest of the performance.

Also new is "Two Houdini Tricks," in which Penn (and later, Teller) performs "Metamorphosis" while Teller demonstrates the art of threading 100 needles with your throat.

Penn and Teller's final act, called "Kinds of Animal Traps," is a fairly impressive display of dexterity and humor. As Penn discusses his childhood fascination with various types of animal traps, Teller opens each one and loads it with some food. After successfully getting the food out of the traps, Teller performs one last impressive feat, and he and Penn take their well-deserved bows.

There are some weak spots in the performance. "Cuffed to a Creep," in which Teller secretly handcuffs himself to Penn (and then performs a surprisingly easy escape), is the worst of them. The trick itself took only a few seconds; I saw no reason for them to stretch it out with what I saw as a boring dialogue.

As much as I love Penn and Teller, I could not help but feel a little cheated by The Refrigerator Tour. It was certainly entertaining and fun, but much of their material was recycled from their Broadway show and a nationally-broadcast television special last fall. Of the 11 segments in their show, I counted only three which I had not seen before. Their sense of humor and style made up for much of the repetition, but someone who has seen them many times before might not appreciate the show nearly as much as someone enjoying Penn and Teller for the very first time.

The theater was not completely full, but it came pretty close. I suggest that anyone interested in seeing Penn and Teller's latest show buy tickets immediately.

By the way: Don't be surprised if you see Penn and Teller wandering around the MIT campus during their three-week stay in Boston. Rumor has it that they enjoy hanging out at the Media Laboratory, playing with the computers that are there. Perhaps it is only appropriate that these two men, who earn money from playing games with people's minds, should spend time at a place where games become reality.