In the 1990s and beyond, Terry Tempest was one of the biggest rock stars out there — an icon with a magnetic presence who filled concert halls and ruled the radio. But that was then, and it’s been a while since Tempest and his band, The Storm, made much of an impact. Now he’s desperate for a comeback, and it all hinges on an interview to return him to the limelight. There’s just one problem: He’s always despised the press.
That’s the story of Terry Tempest: The Final Interview, making its world premiere Thursday, March 2, at The Magnetic Theatre.
Penned by local playwright Jamieson Ridenhour and directed by Rodney Smith, it stars Cody Magouirk as Tempest, Hayley Heninger as the young reporter Olivia Blake, Carrie Kimbrell Kimzey as her pal (and Tempest superfan) Stacy Milligan and Pasquale LaCorte as Tempest’s dedicated manager, Joey Greenbaum.
“I’ve always been fascinated by the ideas of fame and fandom,” says Ridenhour. “The idea came to me the day that Lou Reed died [in 2013].” Reed, who had huge hits as “Walk on the Wild Side,” with his band, The Velvet Underground, was infamous for his tough treatment of the press. “He was abrasive with interviewers and sometimes reduced them to tears,” Ridenhour says. “It was like a wall that he put up to protect himself.”
The playwright began exploring an idea: “You would have this crusty curmudgeon, and what would happen if you locked him a room with a journalist?”
A novelist who teaches at an online high school for gifted children and with the Great Smokies Writing Program at UNC Asheville, Ridenhour also knows about the music game. He currently plays guitar in a band with his son, pop musician Ian Ridenhour.
Ridenhour knocked out an early version of his play while living in Bismarck, N.D., and did a one-act readers theater production in 2015. While he’s since expanded the story and changed some motivations, “The core has been the same, and each of the four characters have secrets,” he says. “It all comes out.”
Tempest supposedly burst on the rock scene in 1993 and went on to have a long and successful career. Ridenhour sees him with a rough, punk edge like the late Joe Strummer of The Clash. “And there’s some Henry Rollins in there,” he says.
In the play, Tempest and the Storm were once “one of the most recorded bands and are still revered” Ridenhour says. But it’s been a long time since they were last on the charts, and a comeback is imperative. Tempest is gripped by depression.
Meanwhile, Olivia, the reporter, is equally desperate to score this interview — it could greatly boost her career as a writer and lead to more substantive assignments.
Stacy has been her friend forever, and, while she provides comic support, “she plays a bigger role than it first appears,” Ridenhour says.
The manager, Joey, has been with Tempest for 25 years and realizes that this is a make-or-break moment for them all. “They are broke and really need a hit,” the playwright explains.
That sense of urgency is one of the ways that the production straddles a line between comedy and drama. “There’s a lot of funny dialogue, but it’s quite dark,” Ridenhour says. “I tend to be a horror writer, but this is not a horror play.” And, while there is no music performed in the show, the production has a realistic edge with an actual Facebook page for Tempest (facebook.com/terrytempestandthestorm) — an idea that came from Smith, the show’s director.
Ridenhour was drawn to The Magnetic Theatre for its policy of only doing original works. “To have this, right here in Asheville, is amazing,” he says. “I can be at the rehearsals, and if an actor has a question, I can explain it or write something on the spot.”
He adds that he tries to just sit back and let the actors do their jobs. “I am a novelist, and that is [usually] an isolated process,” he says, “but to see my characters stand up and talk — that is pretty amazing.”
WHAT: Terry Tempest: The Final Interview
WHERE: The Magnetic Theatre, 375 Depot St. themagnetictheatre.org
WHEN: Previews Thursday and Friday, March 2 and 3, 7:30 p.m. $16 online/$19 door. Performances continue Thursday-Saturday, March 4-25, 7:30 pm. $21 online/$24 at the door