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Philly Theatre Week 2023: Jenna Kuerzi and Val Dunn’s Johnny Depp: A Retrospective on Late-Stage Capitalism
All good things must end. Jenna Kuerzi, a fixture of Philadelphia’s independent theater scene, announced recently that she would retire her solo show Johnny Depp: A Retrospective on Late-Stage Capitalism after a valedictory run of performances at Fergie’s Pub (kicking off as part of Philly Theatre Week, but running through April 16).
This irreverent satire of celebrity culture, which Kuerzi crafted with playwright Val Dunn, represents the full potential of the do-it-yourself theater aesthetic. Kuerzi self-produced the first run in her South Philly living room. Over the years, it has reached London’s West End and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
Along the way, Kuerzi has become Philadelphia’s unofficial expert on all things Depp. She even started a podcast, Depp Impact, that chronicled her journey to watch every single movie in the actor’s catalog during the pandemic. (Full disclosure: I appeared as a guest on several episodes.)
The real Johnny Depp
Of course, the public perception of Depp has shifted massively from 2018, when this stage show premiered, to the present. Kuerzi smartly chooses not to shy away from the unsavory elements of Depp’s personal life, and anyone going into Johnny Depp: A Retrospective on Late-Stage Capitalism expecting a worshipful hagiography should be pleasantly surprised by the gloves-off treatment he receives. The clever script, which often uses the actor’s filmography against him, shows keenly that our idols frequently have feet made of wax.
In Kuerzi’s handling, Depp comes to encompass the wreckage of modern society: conspicuous consumption (his purported $30,000 per month wine habit), bloated paychecks ($90 million for the umpteenth Pirates of the Caribbean sequel), and blind adoration of fame, especially related to his alleged physical and emotional abuse toward his former wife, Amber Heard. In the upstairs barroom at Fergie’s, Kuerzi creates a festive environment, encourages fans to revel in their fond memories of Depp’s career, and then subtly introduces the powerful case against him and what he represents.
But Johnny Depp: A Retrospective on Late-Stage Capitalism isn’t an intellectual exercise. At its core, it is truly a party, and Kuerzi is a superb master of ceremonies. Swigging liberally from a bottle of wine and costumed like a down-market version of Depp’s iconic Jack Sparrow character, Kuerzi moves through the crowd seeking co-conspirators, her wild orange hair trailing behind her like wildfire. Even those terminally allergic to audience participation are at risk for conversion.
So, skip the show if you don’t want to throw gold coins at the stage whenever the title of a Depp movie you’ve seen is spoken. Stay home if you don’t want to join strangers in a sea shanty. And if you want your Depp fandom to remain unspoiled by uncomfortable truths, this is not the show for you. But if you don’t fall into any of those categories, order yourself a drink and enjoy the last outing of one of the most entertaining and enlightening shows in recent memory.
Know Before You Go: Johnny Depp: A Retrospective on Late-Stage Capitalism includes references to spousal abuse and domestic violence that some viewers might find disturbing. A portion of the proceeds from these performances will be donated to the Philadelphia chapter of Women Against Abuse.
What, When, Where
Johnny Depp: A Retrospective on Late-Stage Capitalism. By Jenna Kuerzi and Val Dunn, directed by Kuerzi. Pay what you decide. Through April 16, 2023, at Fergie’s Pub, 1214 Sansom Street, Philadelphia. Get tickets here.
The performance space at Fergie’s Pub is accessible only by stairs.
Masks are optional.
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