JOHNNY DEPP: A RETROSPECTIVE ON LATE-STAGE CAPITALISM (Jenna Kuerzi + Val Dunn): Pirates of the leisure class

Johnny Depp late stage capitalism
Jenna Kuerzi as Johnny Depp. Sketch by Chuck Schultz.

Previously, my closest encounter with Johnny Depp came in Amsterdam around the turn of the millennium, when I encountered a group of people crowded around a restaurant in which he was dining. After waiting around for a couple minutes for him to emerge, I continued my stumble around the city, only to see him come out of the back door.

I’ll now have to call this my second closest run-in with the troubled movie star, having spent an evening in his company in the cozy confines of Fergie’s Pub second floor. Dressed in pirate garb, Depp (Jenna Kuerzi) hijacks a symposium on his career as a symptom and cause of late-stage capitalism (this absurd era of conspicuous consumption, needless spending, and jarring inequality which we enjoy), and treats us to a lighthearted hour of comic interactions based on his oversized ego and ridiculous lifestyle.

The short, engaging play is a fun, in-character romp through a varied film career, but it’s peppered with political implications. The ostensible presenter of the fictional Depp symposium (co-writer Val Dunn) interjects some factoids about Depp’s earnings ($650 million) and spending (all of it, lavishly) and compares these sums to the cost of feeding the homeless or paying a lowly assistant on one of his films. 

Depp’s off-screen foibles are well publicized: drug use, a $30,000/week wine habit and also some wasteful spending, and violence, including spousal abuse (although the latter has recently been called into question). He took it upon himself to continue the questionable legacy of Hunter S. Thompson, starring in two cinematic adaptations of the gonzo king’s hedonistic novels and continuing the portrayal off-set. Carrying around a bottle of wine, Kuerzi captures Depp’s Keith Richardsesque swagger. 

Kuerzi-Depp begins proceeds by asking us to name our favorite movie starring the actor. I struggled to think of his roles, but seeing the character run through his career film-by-mediocre-film, I realized how much of his up-and-down oeuvre I’ve subjected myself to over the years. I’m complicit. Depp’s excessive spending exemplifies late stage capitalism, but so does our patronage of his work in the form of movie tickets or Netflix subscription, interest in his lifestyle, and willingness to wait on the street to catch a glimpse of celebrity. 

We’re all fucked, enjoy the show.

[Fergie’s Pub, 1214 Sansom Street] February 6-17, 2020; todaytix.com

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