Actor, singer, director, and deviser Jenna Kuerzi, a native of New Jersey, brings her unique perspective on controversial movie star and notorious bad boy Johnny Depp to NYC in October for four performances at The Tank. In her interactive solo show Johnny Depp: A Retrospective on Late-Stage Capitalism, which made its pre-pandemic debut in Philadelphia, followed by appearances at Fringe Festivals in the US and Europe, she offers a satirical power-point retrospective on the entire film career of the Golden Globe Award-winning three-time Oscar nominee – listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s highest paid actor of 2012 – while referencing his well-known use of drugs and alcohol, and allegations of abuse of all kinds, to pose the burning question, “What happened?” to this self-proclaimed “victim of cancel culture.”
Co-created with writer/script consultant Val Dunn, the show, described as “part ritual and part drunken singalong,” features Kuerzi as Captain Jack Sparrow (Depp’s famed role in Disney’s popular and financially successful Pirates of the Caribbean series), swigging from a bottle, encouraging the audience to throw gold doubloons on stage in response to questions, and giving fans the opportunity to compete for Depp-inspired prizes.
Before the New York run begins, Jenna made time in her fully loaded schedule (including an industry reading at Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre in Greenwich Village and rehearsals for Bess Wohl’s Camp Siegfried at Philly’s Theatre Exile) to give our readers the background of the show and a taste of what to expect when you go.
When did you first become interested in Johnny Depp and what made you decide to create a show about him?
Jenna: I’ve been a fan of Depp’s work since I was a pre-teen. The first Pirates of the Carribean film was a formative experience as an eleven-year-old. From there I discovered Edward Scissorhands, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Cry-Baby, etc. The whimsical, and weird, movies he has been involved in inspired me to become an actor for my own whimsical and weird projects. Val Dunn and I were eager to work with each other in 2018, and had a brainstorming session. We were saying things we love and know a lot about and discovered we both dressed up as Jack Sparrow for Halloween as kids, and the retrospective was created. At this point, 2018, Depp was just entering into some intense legal battles and hadn’t made a good film in quite some time, so that was helpful in the development of celebrating, and roasting, a career that has meant a lot to generations of people, ourselves included. So we wrote a skeleton of a show, performed it in Val’s West Philly living room, and from there the show has traveled the world and is now coming to NYC.
Have you made any updates to the show since its pre-pandemic premiere?
Pre-pandemic, JD was a two-person show, with Val acting as the “voice of reason” and, briefly, as Winona Ryder. She got married and now lives in Bristol, England, so, with her blessing, I reworked the show as a solo piece. The structure has remained largely the same, but the content has shifted a lot and there’s a lot more audience participation. And then, of course, there were those highly public trials in 2020 and 2022. The show isn’t explicitly ABOUT the trials, but I did have to overhaul the entire ending to address recent controversies. I update the show every time there’s news. Often, that means rewriting a bit in my head on the way to the theater. One of these days, the story will be stagnant, but today is not that day!
What do you find most challenging, and most rewarding, about doing a solo performance?
We created this show because I was afraid of, and inexperienced in, heavy improvisation, audience interaction, and solo performance. After doing this show for a few years, these are now some of my strengths as a performer. I do everything myself, and part of the appeal of this show is the scrappy DIY nature. It is legitimately just me, a power-point, goodie bags, and the audience. It forces me, as a performer, to be fully present at all times and to embrace mess! That’s not always a thing that gets to happen in more heavily produced shows or shows with more spectacle and larger casts. I’ve learned a ton about staying present, which is both a reward and a challenge.
What’s the most memorable interaction you’ve ever had from a participating audience member?
At one point in the show, Johnny offers the stage to anybody who would share a sexual fantasy, past or present, involving him. Nobody has ever come up and shared, so I usually make something up and just start talking about nothing, but somebody did come up ONCE and told a wild fantasy. They walked off stage and I had to tell the audience, truthfully, that nobody has ever shared anything like that. It was a gift.
What do you hope audiences take away from the show?
I hope the show highlights that people are more complicated than what we see on a red carpet or a live streamed trial. As we literally throw money together, I want us to be able to revel in the things that made us who we are and entertainment that’s important to us, while still recognizing how we are enablers for rich people’s behavior. But most importantly, I want audiences to have fun in the theater. This show is about movies but can only exist in a theater, and there’s something beautiful about that.
Thanks, Jenna, for sharing a sneak peek at Johnny Depp; I’m looking forward to seeing its NYC premiere in October!
Running Time: Approximately 60 minutes, without intermission.
Johnny Depp: A Retrospective on Late-Stage Capitalism plays October 4-8, 2023, at The Tank, 312 West 36th Street, NYC. For tickets (priced at $15-25, plus fees), call (212) 563-6269, or go online. COVID vaccine, booster, and masks are required.