Upon entering the second floor of Fergie’s Pub you’re greeted by “Press Agent Jenna,” given a goodie bag, and told not to open it till ‘Johnny’ tells you to. This brief interaction sets the stage for the hour-long performance piece you’re about to witness. The one-person show is a retrospective on the film career of controversial actor Johnny Depp, weaving through his filmography and personal drama to bring you a show that is funny, eye opening, and sometimes maddening in its acknowledgement of how our society worships celebrities.
Jenna Kuerzi heads this show, which is billed as the final Philly production. The show has changed a fair amount from its original iteration in 2018, but the main focus: the take-down of Depp and celebrity culture, remains the same. The premise is simple: the audience is at the “Redemption Tour” for the troublesome actor, and he leads the crowd through a retrospective of his film career, utilizing a slideshow of movie posters and absurd (yet oftentimes real) quotes. What follows is a funny, witty, and poignant send up of a Hollywood bad boy, that includes the audience in the chaos of this one man.
Kuerzi is a natural entertainer and emcee for the show. She effortlessly gets the audience on her side from the first introductions and “through the magic of theatre” transitions into the controversial Depp with ease. Her take on Depp in a low-rent Jack Sparrow outfit, chugging from a bottle of wine and occasionally slurring his speech is disarmingly charming, and makes you swoon for him, only until you realize what a garbage person he is. Kuerzi doesn’t shy away from most of Depp’s scandals, making sure the audience is aware that with the crazy amount of money Depp has, he could be a much better person. She even talks about his recent summer court abuse case, and posits that the whole of the livestreamed case was just a way to “destroy Ms. Heard.”
The show chronologically flows through Depp’s long filmography, and includes the audience on the journey, as they are instructed to toss coins (from the goodie-bags) at Depp whenever they recognize a project the star worked on. The gold doubloons add an element of fun to the evening, but also make sure that the audience is paying attention, so as not to miss the humorous takes on true negativity surrounding each project, even while they bask in the joy of nostalgia. The show has a lot of audience interaction, and Kuerzi is not afraid to handle any audience response to the material, expertly navigating ad-libs, and continuing to steer the ship straight to the end of the piece.
While the show is only an hour long, it doesn’t feel that short, or have any moments where it feels like it drags. This is a testament to Kuerzi and collaborator Val Dunn’s work on the script of the piece, as well as a likely takeaway from the many iterations this show has been through. Kuerzi clearly did her research, and it shows in the way she’s able to ad-lib about intimate details of Depp’s life and work. She says this is the final time it’ll play in Philadelphia, but there are hopes that it will continue to have a life outside of the city, as it has in the past. This retrospective on one of Hollywood’s most controversial figures is a witty show that will have audiences laughing and thinking about how we interact and hyperfocus on celebrities in this day and age…even when their worth is grossly inflated.
[Jenna Kuerzi at Fergie’s Pub, 1214 Sansom St.] March 30-April 16, 2023; jennakuerzi.com; johnny-depp-a-retrospective-on-late-stage-capitalism.ticketleap.com/johnny-depp-a-retrospective/
Part of Philadelphia Theater Week: theatrephiladelphia.org/whats-on-stage/2023-philly-theatre-week