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A Prospective of Jenna Kuerzi's Johnny Depp! (A Retrospective on Late Stage Capitalism)

By Mackenzie Raine Kirkman

Theatre Philadelphia Content + Criticism Cohort member Mackenzie Raine Kirkman speaks with Jenna Kuerzi about Philly Theatre Week and Johnny Depp! (A Retrospective on Late Stage Capitalism).

We all have those things that make us say, “immediately, yes,” right? For some people it’s tacos, maybe for others, it’s karaoke. For me, it’s things that involve a heavy criticism of late-stage capitalism. Which, yeah, maybe that doesn’t get the party started like handheld food and off tune singing, but it is incredibly relevant to our everyday life. Or at least, Jenna Kuerzi, and I think so.

When I first reached out to write up a piece for Kuerzi’s fringe offering, which you can find at the charming upstairs theatre in Fergie’s Pub on a myriad of dates during Philly Theatre Week, she gave me an enthusiastic yes. Followed by a quick “no” when I asked if I could drop into a rehearsal. Not because the secret recipe to Kuerzi’s tight one-hour offering is a treasure for only ticket-holding audience members to discover, but because there aren’t really any rehearsals to visit.

“Well,” Kuerzi told me during our interview, “the rehearsal would be me setting up the PowerPoint at Fergie’s and listening to some music.” Kuerzi laughs then which she does easily, and often throughout the interview giving it a welcome friends-catching-up-at-a-bar vibe. She tells me that back in 2019, when this piece was first coming together, she and her then-co-creator Val Dunn had a dream of working together, and as they planned discovered they’d both donned a Jack Sparrow costume in their teens. This shared history, mixed with Kuerzi’s knowledge of pop culture and Johnny Depp and Dunn’s interest in late- stage capitalism and the freedom celebrity affords created the initial version of the show. Now that Dunn has moved away, Kuerzi has taken on the show by herself. She told me that it has completely transformed, “the entire ending is different” she assured and says she’s been tweaking it every day since with a major overhaul when Dunn first left to make it a true one-person show and another during the Depp-Heard Trial. The skeleton script that acts as Kuerzi’s lifeline through her wild audience-engaging piece is just as alive and well as Depp and capitalism themselves. “I tried to make it sharper, I wanna say,” Kuerzi explains as she discusses how vastly different the script is now compared to four years ago, “It used to run an hour fifteen which is too long!...for a solo show.”

And then I was finally able to bring up a question that had been rattling around in my half empty head from the start, “You know, it doesn’t really sound like you…like one person shows…why do one?” Kuerzi laughs uproariously before ensuring that she doesn’t have an issue with one-person shows it was just something she’d never done before and she’s certainly an artist that is always seeking a fresh challenge. “I think theatre needs to be fun,” she clarified, tying up her hair to focus as we talked shop, “sometimes one person shows aren’t always [fun] because they can turn into, like, diary theatre…which is totally fine! But I don’t wanna talk about myself and my issues…I’d rather talk about somebody else’s!”

And Depp certainly isn’t someone without issues. “Have you gotten any kickback?” I asked, perhaps too bluntly, but it looked like Kuerzi knew the question was coming since she nodded as soon as I asked. This is the hard line of the piece and Kuerzi knows it. Depp has been a contentious figure in media for a while, something that people, but not Kuerzi, often forget which is a central crux of the piece. That said, the fond memories many audience members have for Jack Sparrow and the pirate franchise can make people assume the piece is pro-Depp. “I had a woman once come up to me and unprompted just say ‘oh I was team Depp all the way’,” then Kuerzi made an unintelligible noise, the sort of sound one makes when they feel an awkward realization coming because the piece is certainly not the pro-Depp fluff that woman had expected. Don’t get me wrong the piece is fun, it’s got jokes galore and Kuerzi genuinely wants you to have a good time! The audience even gets a goody bag in order to engage with the piece throughout by throwing plastic doubloons to the stage and sometimes to Kuerzi’s face which is why the real pennies were struck from the show. But the piece also wants to take a moment to honestly discuss how capitalism commodifies artists and how the cults of personality formed around celebrities often have dangerous results.

All and All, Kuerzi’s show is for the audience goer that likes fun with a little sucker punch of truth. A nostalgia trip that relishes in our shared history while still being reasonable and critical of it which makes Johnny Depp: A Retrospective on Late Stage Capitalism a can’t-miss this Theatre Week. Oh! And if you are able to check it out; do me a favor and let Kuerzi pick up the doubloons at the end of the show, you don’t need to help, I promise. She told me so.

Late Stage Capitalism Show Art

Johnny Depp!
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